In landscapes as vast as Limpopo National Park, aerial missions play a key part in their protection and management. Here, as part of a major operation to tackle illegal charcoaling in Banhine National Park, a crew is deployed from Limpopo to help identify the charcoaling camps from the air, then provide co-ordinates to rangers to move in on the ground. It is a joint operation by rangers from both parks in Mozambique, who are managed by the National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) in partnership with Peace Parks Foundation.

Illegal logging takes a heavy toll on mature trees from key species in Banhine. Trees are integral to the health of ecosystems, and vital for the wildlife to continue thriving. Illegal logging destroys the ecosystem, reducing cover, habitat and important food sources for wildlife. Logging and charcoaling practices are strictly prohibited because the parks have a rich variety of valuable tree species. Unfortunately, with such incredible forests covering much of the landscape, operations do go on.

Today, flying high over the bush, Wouter and crew pass spectacular scenery as the mists burn off in the early morning. They have a safari of their own, with flocks of ostrich and herds of impala running through the savannah. But they are not distracted. Their mission is to find signs of charcoaling camps – areas of land covered by felled trees.

By the end of the operation, 28 charcoaling camps are found by the counter-poaching unit in the 700 000 hectare conservation area, which, in itself, is quite a feat. Hundreds of bags of charcoal are destroyed, along with much equipment used for producing charcoal including thermos, machetes, axes and a chainsaw.

Illegal charcoaling has been identified as one of the main threats to the ongoing rehabilitation of the ecosystems in Banhine. These are commercial operations which result in deforestation of the reserve and ensuing destabilisation of natural ecosystems. Halting illegal charcoal production is therefore a key focus of counter-poaching efforts in the park, so this latest development is significant in terms of Peace Parks’ efforts to combat the practice.