Mission: Bonizwe Award Flight for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)
Date: 12 December 2009
Requesting organisation:
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Conservation Leadership Programme
Location: Ezemvelo Nature Reserve and Telperion Game Reserve

Pilots:   Jeremy Woods and Karl Jensen

Report from the beneficiary, by Adam Pires of The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

Towards the end of last year the EWT held its awards ceremony, together with awards presented to  students within the Conservation Training Programme who show commitment and motivation to their development.

Three of our CTP students received an award and together with this, the Conservation Leadership Programme arranged with The Bateleurs to provide these students with a free flight, as part of the prize and incentive for further commitment and hard work.

On the 12th December 2009, Adam Pires the CTP coordinator took the three students to the Rand Airport to meet up with Jeremy Woods, the volunteer Bateleurs pilot. The students – who had never travelled in the air before – were quite apprehensive when standing alongside the small airplane that sparkled outside the hanger. After Jeremy had done a pre-trip inspection with the students, explaining what things were and how they worked, they waited a short time for the fog to lift and then taxied towards the runway.

Each student expressed their overwhelming joy at the experience, but also the fear they felt during the first leg of the flight. The students got a first class opportunity to view the game reserve on which they so often work, from the sky and this gave them a whole new perspective.  Each student found the trip to be a once-in-a-lifetime event and it definitely broadened their views on some of the management areas on Telperion.

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The pilot’s story of the mission: The Batelerus Bonizwe Programme – Breeding Conservationists
The EWT Award Winners Mission
, by Jeremy Woods

On Saturday morning the 12th of December I

awoke early to a totally overcast and clagged in sky over Jo’burg. The thought entered my head, briefly, that perhaps all our plans would now be dashed at the last moment. I put the thought out of my mind and headed for my hangar at Rand Airport where I was to meet Adam Pires from the Conservation Leadership Group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, together withthree Award Winners from his project.

The Bateleurs Board of Directors had been deliberating for some time as to how to get the Bonizwe project going on a sustainable basis.  Fortuitously, the Expereimental Aircraft Association (EAA), leaders in recreational aviation and EWT had also been trying to put together some type of project that was very similar to Bonizwe in concept.  Subsequent to a meeting between The Bateleurs, the EAA and the EWT at the Zoo, it was agreed that EWT (who has an existing project identifying and training young learners in “Conservation”) would identify the outstanding students for the year and then The Bateleurs would introduce these future environm

entalists to “conservation in the air” as a reward. EAA with their Young Eagles programme would support Bateleurs by giving the aviation experience to these award-winning learners.

Thus it was that I met Tsepo Monareng, Shumani Makwarela and Rabelani Ravuluma, the young award winning students for 2009, on the asphalt apron outside my hangar under a very low ceiling of cloud and a very cool breeze on the Staurday morning.  These students are all members of the EWT “Conservation Training Programme” and are busy doing their “Diploma in Nature Conservation” at UNISA.

The airfield was closed to VFR traffic so I carried out the pre-flight inspection and refuelling under the watchful eye of at least one of the future conservationists.  Tsepo, a friendly extrovert with lots of enthusiasm, showed a huge interest in the usual technical pre-flight “lecture” that I give Young Eagles, about the aircraft, what makes it work, how it flies etc., and he could not wait to get in and fly. The other two were obviously much more nervous about flying and seemed more interested in getting the whole “scary exercise” over with as soon as possible.  Adam (EWT), who had brought the youngsters and was not dressed suitably for the unseasonably cold weather, decided to take the photos that he required and get on his bicycle.

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Eventually, much later than we had planned, the cloud base lifted enough for me and my three passengers to be able to take off from Rand.  I phoned Karl Jensen (the other Bateleurs member involved with the Bonizwe project) who has his C170 plane at Fly-inn, an airfield east of Pretoria, close to Bronkhorstspruit and the area over which our mission was to be flown, and he said that the cloud base there was also about 700 foot AGL so we could probably get through.  Karl (who is also the Chairman of EAA Chapter 322) had earlier picked up Jo-Anne Schermeier, one of the project managers from EWT and taken her directly to Fly-Inn with him. The idea was that we would use Fly-Inn as the base from which to launch the mission as this would also be close to the “mission area” and we could judge the weather more accurately from there.

There seemed to be no other aircraft in the air under the Jo’burg TMA so we only had to worry about dodging around or over the ground-hugging fog patches and under the cloud canopy which hung lower in some patches than in others.  Routing over the city to the Pinedene route (between Waterkloof and Grand Central Airports) gave the pax their first ever view of Jo’burg from the air (excluding the top of the Hillbrow tower’s mast in cloud) which resulted in much animated discussion and excitement.  By the time we landed at Fly-Inn most of the ground fog had disappeared and the cloud base was at least 800’ AGL, which meant we could fly the mission without problems and, best of all, in cool conditions. The result of the cool conditions also meant that none of the pax suffered any of the discomfort or nausea normally associated with hot weather flying.

After the short pit-stop and refreshments at Karl’s hangar we taxied out for our mission: The three award winners and I in my Comanche 250 and Jo-Anne Schermeier in Karl’s beautifully polished vintage Cessna 170. The “mission area” was over the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve and Telperion Game Reserve in an area just north/east of Bronkhorstspruit and south of Loskop Dam. The reserves have some mighty rivers running through them, including the Wilge, and a very interesting background.  The students had spent some time on these two reserves in the bush/eco training facilities which are housed on them. They were therefore familiar with the reserves from ground level and the flight would hopefully give them a new perspective and an understanding of how aerial survey could possibly aid in the process of conservation.

Karl took off first as it was more likely that the Comanche would be able to catch up with the Cessna than the other way around. We had decided to fly part of the mission in formation to enable some photographs of the mission in the air. We joined up in the air about five minutes out as we proceeded to try and find the reserves. With all the rain that we have had, the green countryside from above was more reminiscent of Ireland than South Africa.  Consequently it was quite difficult to distinguish where the Nature Reserve started and land which was simply open veld. We were eventually able to identify the reserves as well as the various accommodation buildings and dormitories used by the eco students when resident on the reserve. Quite a lot of the 3400 head of game was visible as well as the rivers and ravines and cliffs that make this such a beautiful reserve. I have stayed on this reserve before and it is well worth the effort.

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One of the students (Tsepo) was heading for his hometown of Nelspruit immediately after the flight for the rest of holidays so instead of taking him back to Rand, we landed at Witbank, gave him a few bucks to catch a taxi and sent him on his way. At five that evening I got a call from Tsepo, safe at home, raving about how much he had enjoyed the whole experience and thanking The Bateleurs for it.

After getting airborne out of Witbank we routed back to Fly-Inn at top speed, to pick up Jo-Anne, who had flown with Karl on the mission.  After another bit of refreshment we headed off, once again, over the top of Grand Central and a bit of the city, back to Rand. The remaining two students who, at the beginning of the day had been very dubious about flying being an enjoyable pastime, had really relaxed and claimed even to be enjoying it by the time we got back to Rand.

Our overall flying time was 2 hours and 40 minutes but the exercise took most of the day, what with all the landing here, there and everywhere. I can’t think of a better way to spend my spare time and would love to be involved with this type of mission again. I believe that this effort should bear much fruit “conservationally speaking” in the future.