Objective of the flight:

To provide a visible policing presence whilst conducting anti-poaching patrols of the nine game farms making up the ZWSI.Report from the pilots:

“Greetings Fellow Bats Pilots and Conservation folk,

Herewith a feedback report from The Bateleurs anti-poaching patrol flights of Dec/Jan, where without further ado I must thank the volunteer pilots of The Bateleurs who so kindly gave of their time and aircraft and who flew the long and demanding hours of patrol flying – this thanks I make from the rhinos (someone has to speak for them), the region’s conservators and The Bateleurs Board.

Figuring that the posting of every pilot’s own report would surely become too much for one report and in some aspects repetitive, I have rather created here an amalgamation of the individual reports, with some interesting stats and imagery from this season’s activity. One thread throughout which is unanimously reported by the pilots and which is delivered with enthusiasm, is that this Zululand a poaching patrolling was a fantastic experience and all were hugely complimentary of the great ground support and hospitality delivered by Simon of Phinda and Brett & Dirk of the resident anti-poaching unit (name details are specifically omitted here).

Throughout this report will be a pilot name, indicting a snip from their personal report – as follows…………..

Len Kohler – It was a real privilege to be able to fly the Phinda patrols – I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Aside from those pilots who are included in the reporting below, we must also thank Barry de Groot, Daryl Kimber, Brett Hill and Craig Wing, all of whom were in their starting blocks as ‘reserves’ and ready to serve immediately if/when called to do so.

The good pilots of this mission all presented fantastic feedback reports, with stats packages, comment and images surpassing that which we have ever been accustomed to in the past. It might be something in the Phinda water, or the ease with which modern technology of Garmin track files and digital cameras can produce data, nevertheless every one of these pilots is to be complemented on having set the bar for others to follow, with their superb reporting.

From Len Kohler’s extensive table of daily stats is the following totals summary………………….

Duration

Distance

Ave speed

Fuel

Hours

nm

kms

Kts

Km/h

Litres

L/Hr

14.1

1036.1

1021.0

74

137

162.0

12

Ferry

3.1

259

480

84

155

Ops

11.0

777.1

1441.0

71

131

This delivery of hours flown in just three days on location is damned fine work – and at 4.7hrs per day of low level intense flying, one can see that this is not an activity for any but the fittest of pilots.

DB Warren’s delivery was equally meritworthy and with the following quote from DB of Durban:

Firstly a thanks to Dirk for all the fetching and carrying. Nothing ever seems to be too much for him to cope with. To the Phinda Team at Forest Lodge, I don’t think words can express the gratitude. We were made to feel like part of the team. Awesome food and amazing accommodation. The flying was really hard work having done some 15 hours in 3 days. Mostly low and slow but with amazing results.

DB Warren and Dirk then Len Kohler fuelling up for another flight.

Snippets from DB:

We spent an hour and a half searching for two further missing Buffalo……..  had Cilla accompany me with her tracking gear to find the Elephant that she is conducting research on…….  an interesting Sand forest expedition with Eco Researcher Ross Goode. We discovered an as yet unmapped area of Lebombo Wattle, which really excited Ross.The flight home coastwise showed me the extent of the sand dune mining and the loss of the natural dune fauna and flora, but otherwise the tailwind was good. Am proud to have been able to make a positive contribution.

From Miles Pearce of Heidelberg:

I would like to comment on the amazing attitude, co-operation and help received from a number of people down there.  For me it was nothing short of exceptional. Douglas, the Manager, and Stuart, the game guide at Vlei Lodge provided a wonderful and expert atmosphere and service. I felt a bit guilty at first as I was expecting a tent when I arrived and had taken my sleeping bag down with me.  But that didn’t last long.

I would like to comment on the amazing attitude, co-operation and help received from the a number of people down there.  For me it was nothing short of exceptional. Celeste of Fedair at the Phinda airfield was also amazingly pleasant, bubbly and helpful. Dale Wepener was particularly helpful and positive throughout. Johnno, Nikki and Stuart at Forest Lodge treated us to a wonderful meal in the boma and the service again was superb.  Nikki in particular was great with her no problem service, chat and pleasant presence.

Roger Ford our 2nd pilot on duty did a real marathon delivery, on site for 9 days and with only one of those rained out. As far as I can tell this is/was The Bateleurs longest unbroken delivery of service by one pilot on a mission and praise must go to Roger for his ‘going the extra mile’ and some.

From Roger:  On arrival at the plane I discovered that the cover we had draped over Buzz (the bathawk) to keep him dry was not very effective. Now I know why they call them bucket seats! After mopping up the cockpit as best we could Dirk and I took off for my first patrol. It was a beautiful, smooth, fresh morning and the scenery was spectacular! What a privilege it is to see Phinda from the air. Besides all the other game, we saw in excess of 15 rhino and also two secretary birds on that first flight alone!

When Dirk and I approached the plane on the morning of the 30th I noticed the strobe flashing. I always leave the strobe switched on so that I don’t forget the master switch on. I then noticed the aircraft documentation lying around in the mud and also red muddy paw prints all over the wings! The vervet monkeys had attempted to take Buzz for a flip it seems. Fortunately there was no damage and the engine started without any problems.

Roger’s impressive flight stats, where he reported on conclusion that his flying arm was sore from the work – great stuff Roger:

Between 27 December and 5 January only one day (29th) was lost due to bad weather.
No suspicious activity was observed during any of the patrols.
A total distance of 2478 km was flown in 25.9 hours on patrol (2.8hrs per day)
Approximately 390 litres of fuel were consumed (15Lt/Hr)

Letitia and I would like to thank Dirk for his enthusiastic support during our stay. Nothing was ever too much trouble for him.

In conclusion; A total of 68.5hrs were flown covering 6710kms of track and in the words of Brett the chief of the APU, this had any observers, local community folk and wanna-be poachers all unable to fathom what was going on. Whilst the resident Zap Wing aircraft was buzzing around one part of the region, there was one of the volunteer flights in another part. On the days where the baton changed hands there was an early flight by the departing pilot and then a later flight by the incoming pilot i.e. a total of 3 LSAircraft could be observed on some days and as a visible policing effort, there was a great statement made.

This aerial surveillance and visible policing by the Zap Wing and our Bats is given credit for the fact that a staggering 26 rhino have perished in this 2014 year to date (and we’re only on the 20th Jan at the time of writing) and yet with no fatalities/losses in ‘our’ zone. (Jacaranda FM’s web at: http://www.jacarandafm.com/post/rhino-files-over-26-rhinos-poached-in-2014/. Without wishing to be self-praising; but with a result like this, at very least a debt of gratitude is owed by Zululand conservation to the combined aerial effort and to the APU, who have guarded this region.

For Bats pilots interested in making your good ‘give up’ towards rhino anti-poaching and conservation, keep an eye on any inbound call-up notices from The Bateleurs office and be sure to respond swiftly when the next call goes out.

In closing; to the pilots who flew this season I say Thank You, you made my job easy, with your precision following of the schedule, great comms and superb efforts on location. It is no figure of speech when I say that I salute you.