2008 Missions

Comparative Count of Dugongs


Mission: Comparative Count of Dugongs
Date: 4 September 2008
Requesting organisation:
Paul Dutton
Location: Mozambique’s Bazaruto National Park
Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen

Surveying Bazaruto National Park’s Elusive Mermaids by Paul Dutton
Chris Rattray in ZSCTW, flying in seach of Dugong

The Dugong Survey Team:  from the left Dr Almeida Guissamulo, Paul Dutton, Etienne Oosthuizen and Chris Rattray

The Bateleurs supported a count of Mozambique’s Dugongs in February this year, when the exercise yielded alarming reports of decreasing numbers of these gentle sea creatures.  In September a comparative count was conducted, and this is the short report  prepared by Paul Dutton, a Bateleurs pilot and ecologist.  The flying for this mission was performed by volunteer pilots Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen.

Surveying Bazaruto National Park’s Elusive Mermaids  :  3-7 September 2008, by Paul Dutton

“This was my sixth aerial survey, since 1990, of Dugong that occur in the sheltered marine grass environment of the Mozambique’s Bazaruto National Park.  I had just graduated with an MSc degree in coastal management and as luck would have it I found Dr John Hanks sitting at the Africa Desk of WWF (International) in Glande, Switzerland and he offered me a contract to formulate a Master Plan for the Bazaruto Archipelago. This opened up an opportunity for me to test the veracity of my MSc dissertation “Traditional Fisheries and Conservation Ethics” whilst gathering a plethora of data required for formulating the Master Plan. However, it was not long after I had pitched my tent on the northern shore of the main island of Bazaruto that my attention was drawn to the presence of the mythical Sirenia or Dugongs that grazed the sea grass meadows throughout the archipelago. To promote the conservation of an ecosystem one needs a flagship species – like the tiger that symbolizes India’s jungle, or the white rhino that assured iMfolozi Game Reserve’s future. The Dugong, because of its rarity and important ecological niche as a bulk grazer of marine grass, fitted into this role.



Chris Rattray in ZSCTW, flying in seach of Dugong

Dr Almeida Guissamulo, a young graduate of the Mondlane University in Mozambique, and cetacean specialist Dr Vic Cockcroft, accompanied the first aerial survey in 1990 when Dugong were of mixed sexual and age aggregations and were widespread throughout the Archipelago.  An estimate of between 150 and 180 animals was based upon a 25% survey sample.

Since then population estimates have  followed a roller coaster ride of discrepancies in terms of numbers and distribution. It became apparent that small sample numbers were being extrapolated in relation to our original study when in fact the introduction of gill nets for shark harvesting had caused  numerous “accidental” drownings in previously occupied habitats.

Counting a small number of widely distributed animals that can submerge for up to 8 minutes played a major part in the variance in numbers. For example, the survey carried out in February this year accounted for less than 20 animals – all but one occurring close to the islands of Benguerra, Magaruque and miniscule Bangue. Perfect weather on one of the days of the September survey, with the sea clean and mirror calm, resulted in an additional 45 being found close to Santa Carolina.  This elevates the population estimate to at least 56 animals, including 6 sub adults and 5 juveniles in 33 localities.

On this occasion flight transects 2 km apart and covering 130 km starting from the Save River Estuary and moving southwards through the national park were flown over a period of 5 days.  This produced as near as possible a total figure rather than a statistically generated estimate.  A total distance of  3781 km over a period 30 hours was flown by the two aircraft, providing an indication of the intensity of the current survey.

A total of at least 420 Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphins,and 6 Humpback whales were encountered on the survey transects.

We were fortunate to have Dr Almeida Guissamulo design and guide this recent survey which I believe is a definitive estimate of the current status of the Dugong.  It will enable initiation of the  long term management of the Dugong whose current distribution still places them in the precarious situation of being the proverbial “eggs in just two disparate baskets”.

Our beloved squadron leader Nora Kreher and board members of The Bateleurs – Flying for the Environment in Africa once again showed their commitment to caring for our beleaguered natural environment by funding and fielding two of its proficient member pilots, Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen, who flew their C182 and Kitfox7 aircraft with utmost precision over Bazaruto National Park’s azure clear water. Sunday Times photographer Darryl Hammond worked hard to capture images of Dugong underwater on known feeding grounds. On one occasion Darryl and I had two Dugongs within a few meters of our dive boat but when we slipped overboard in our scuba gear all we saw was  blue water – and no sign of the mythical Mermaid! 

The Dugong Trust contributed to the team’s lodgings at the Bazaruto Lodge where managing director Louis Erasmus accommodated the team at a generously reduced rate. Other tourist entrepreneurs namely Gonfishen and the Islands of  Benguerra, Indigo Bay and Santa Carolina all helped in various ways to make this survey a pleasant and successful mission. I took a back seat on this, probably my last air survey of Dugong after 18 years.”

Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking


Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Location: Kgalagadi, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

Barry de Groot volunteered to fly this mission for Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project (and the one for the Kgalagadi Raptors, our next story, over the same weekend in late August this year).  This is the brief report by Gus Mills:

“On Monday 25 August the fourth Bateleurs Kgalagadi Cheetah Project radio tracking flight took place. This time our pilot was Barry de Groot who had flown his Cessna 172 all the way from Pietermaritzburg to help us. This trip was combined with another Bateleur mission, that of counting raptors in the Northern Cape with Abrie Maritz from the Zurich Kalahari Raptor project. Abrie has prepared a detailed report on the raptors mission, pointing out some of the serious logistic problems that were faced.

From the cheetah project point of view the flight was an unqualified success and we once again managed to track all 8 of our radio collared cheetahs (2 males and 6 females) in three hours. Although we were only able to get visuals on two of them, we were able to do so on the most important one, the female Thelma and her one year old cub, Louise. They stick to the dune areas nearly all the time and are the most elusive of our radio collared animals, so we were particularly pleased to see that the cub was still alive and with her mother.

The second most important female on whom we had hoped to get a visual was Maple. However, in spite of several low passes over the area from which the signal was strongest we failed to see her.  She is an old female and one who we have not seen since she lost her two six month old cubs to starvation in April this year. Our follow up observation on the ground confirmed our fears that she was dead. We found the badly chewed up collar and some bones in the vicinity, but are unable to be certain of the cause of her death. A sad but important observation.

As always we are indebted to The Bateleurs for their skills and much valued support for our project.  We hope very much that the logistic problems of getting fuel in drums to Twee Rivieren can be overcome as these flights are like gold to us.”

Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project


Mission: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project

Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

This is the African White-backed Vulture

We have included here some extracts from the detailed account by Abri Maritz of the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project, describing the mission to survey raptors in the Kgalagadi flown by Barry de Groot.

“At 15h20 on the Sunday afternoon of the 24th of August 2008 the blue and white Cessna 172, registration number ZU-AFP, with veteran Springbok pilot Barry de Groot at the controls, touched down on the tarmac runway of the Upington airport. Barry had flown solo from the lush green of Kwazulu Natal to the tawny brown of the semi-desert Kalahari to provide assistance from The Bateleurs to the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KGNP).

Our objectives were to find and plot, as much as possible, the active vulture and eagle nests in the KGNP and in inaccessible areas of the Kalahari region, for future inclusion into the national vulture ringing and wing-tagging program.

The target species were: Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius), African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus), Tawny Eagle (Aguila rapax), Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) and Black-chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus).

The survey was conducted, mostly, along stretches of the following rivers:  the Molopo River, the Southern Nosob River, the Auob River, the Kuruman River – and the adjacent dune veld.  We also surveyed the inaccessible high ridge and kloofs of the Korana and Langberg ranges, and checked on real and potential breeding sites in the Scheurweberg and Kameelpoort ranges. For security reasons the location of the nests as plotted with a GPS will not be published.

We were all a little sad when the survey was all over. We will miss the vast open dune veldt, dotted with salt pans, the snake-like windings of the fossilised rivers, and the raptors flying past.  But most of all we will miss the hours spent in friendship. Thanks to The Bateleurs for their contribution, input and the opportunity to expand our knowledge, especially pilot Barry de Groot who contributed his time, aeroplane and flying skills.”

Assessment of Rehabilitation – Letaba Project


Mission: Assessment of Results of Rehabilitation Programme
Date: 20 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Environmental Offsets
Location: Letaba, Limpopo
Pilot: Corrie de Bruyn

One of our new pilot members in 2008, Corrie de Bruyn, flew this mission – his first flight for The Bateleurs – to assist Dave Turner of Environmental Offsets to assess the progress of rehabilitation of a nursery and other sites in Letaba.  This is the brief report from Dave Turner:

“On the 21 August 2008 I went on a flight over our Letaba project’s nursery and rehabilitation sites with Mr Corrie de Bruyn of Hoedspruit. The flight was organised through The Bateleurs, a group of civilian pilots who volunteer their time and aircrafts in the name of environmental conservation and scientific research.

An application was made to the Johannesburg office of The Bateleurs, who put me in touch with Corrie de Bruyn, an ex-SAAF officer based in Hoedspruit.  We flew in his Kitfox, a small two-seater with a cruising speed of about 150km/h. The flight took about 2½ hours and I managed to get some nice pictures, some of which I’ve attached. I’ve had to reduce them somewhat for the sake of e-mailing and so much of the detail has been lost unfortunately. However, I can burn a CD of all the original photos for you if you wish. Please let me know.

The photos illustrate very nicely the increased basal cover inside the sites compared to the relatively bare ground outside of them. As well as this, you can also see where most of the tree seedlings have been planted.

I may contact The Bateleurs again after some rain has fallen as the difference in grass cover after some summer growth will be more apparent.”

Selous-Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project


Mission: Pre-feasibility Study of the Ruvuma Ecological Reserve
Date: 14 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Selous-Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project
Location: Ruvuma Ecological Reserve, Zambia
Pilot: Chris Rattray

The Selous-Niassa Survey, by Wayne Lotter


The Bateleurs was contacted by Wayne Lotter, Natural Resources Manager and International Team Leader of the Selous-Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project, who asked us to provide aerial assistance for a pre-feasibility study of the Ruvuma Ecological Reserve.

The Selous-Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project will link the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania with the Niassa Game Reserve in Mocambique. The total area is vast, encompassing over 8 million ha, and it includes the biggest Wild dog and the biggest elephant (80 000) populations in Africa.  The project is largely community-based and is being implemented in partnership with the Tanzanian government.

Bateleurs pilot Chris Rattray volunteered for this complex mission and flew his Cessna 182 to Zambia to participate in the pre-feasibility exercise regarding the inclusion of the Ruvuma Ecological reserve.  We have included here some extracts from the detailed report submitted by Wayne – the full report is available on request.


The Selous-Niassa Survey, by Wayne Lotter

ruvuma2_14082008Bateleurs pilot Chris Rattray (left) and Wayne Lotter crossing the Ruvuma river.

“On 8 August 2008 an aerial survey was conducted in order to assess the status quo of the proposed Ruvuma Ecological Reserve area in terms of its integrity, potential and the extent of which it is continuous (intact and natural) or interrupted. A pilot with his Cessna 182 was kindly made available by The Bateleurs.

The survey team comprised Eberhard Halla,Community & Environmental Officer, Tunduru District Council; Wayne Lotter, International Team Leader, Selous-Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project; Krissie Clark, ecologist; and Chris Rattray, Bateleurs pilot.

Four transects were flown over the proposed Ruvuma Ecological Reserve area (Figure 3). The land cover and land use on either side of the plane within a 2 nautical mile band on the transect line was noted at regular intervals by the survey team.

In order to investigate the viability of establishing of the proposed Ruvuma Ecological Reserve, and to determine whether the proposed sub-contracting of services to undertake a more in depth feasibility study is really required, a preliminary assessment and aerial survey was conducted to assess:

* the status quo of the area;
* the ecological integrity of the area; and
* the suitability of formalising the area as a WMA.

This report highlights the finding of the preliminary assessment and aerial survey.”



Chris’s aircraft had to be refuelled with petrol as there as no avgas to be found – anywhere.

“It is recommended that the following be considered by the major stakeholders of the SNWPC:

* Not to carry out the detailed, primarily biological diversity, survey of the target area as outlined in the May 2005 Feasibility Assessment and in the February 2008 SNWPC Project Operational Plan.
* To conduct a study on the feasibility of establishing the area as a WMA, or including it as a part of one of the planned WMAs in the south eastern area of the SNWPC. The conservation protection of this area would help link the SNWPC ecologically with a larger section of the Niassa National Reserve and with the Mwambesi Forest Reserve and possibly further to the Eastern Selous-Niassa Corridor which is being established by WWF Tanzania.
* Should the establishment of the area as a WMA not prove viable, to then investigate the possibility of including as much of the area as possible as a proclaimed extension to the existing Mwambesi Forest Reserve.

The proposed WMA feasibility study should be conducted as soon as possible, while the Selous – Niassa Wildlife Protection Corridor Project is still in full swing and is in a position to possibly support recommendations emanating from the study.”

The SNWPC Project would like sincerely to thank The Bateleurs and in particular their pilot, Chris Rattray,  and ecologist Ms. Krissie Clark (Game Rangers Association of Africa) for their expert assistance and for the aircraft made available for conducting the preliminary aerial survey and assessment of the proposed Ruvuma Ecological Reserve, at zero charge to the project.”