2008 Missions

Working for Wetands -Suikerbosrand and surrounds


Mission:Identify Wetland Habitats Suitable for Rehabilitation
Date: 11 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Suikerbosrand and surrounds, Gauteng South
Pilot: Rob Osner and Tony Kent

The photo illustrates an unchannelled valley bottom wetland to the left of the road inside Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve.

The Suikerbosrand mission for Working for Wetlands was flown by Rob Osner with Tony Kent acting as his co-pilot.  This is the report prepared by Tony:

“Rob Osner and I volunteered to fly this mission request in his neat C210 out of Brakpan Benoni Airfield.

Retief Grobler and Thomani Manungufala from Working for Wetlands arrived early, armed with their cameras, GPS and Google pictures. Both are veterans at aerial surveys so the ground brief covered just the intended route – starting at Suikerbosrand, heading westerly, taking in the Blesbokspruit, Meyerton area, Rietspruit running through Evaton, then further west to the Fochville area, before completing a circular routing back to our home base.

By 09h00 we were airborne and immediately noted that horizontal visibility was rather hazy, thanks to the usual winter Gauteng smog!  Within five minutes, we were over our target area. The Suikerbosrand is a hilly area near Heidelberg running East-West, and is a declared nature reserve with plenty of zebra, wildebeest, impala and other game and birds.  It is a favourite hiking area, with overnight huts if you take the longer walks. Retief had identified six points he wanted to see and photograph, and this was a little challenging as Suikerbosrand is a relatively small area of about 30 km x 12 km.  In addition, as we flew, a few new sites needing attention presented themselves.  They needed to be photographed and have their co-ordinates noted, and this required some fairly aggressive aerial manoeuvering!  Depending on the light, Rob would position the aircraft for the best camera angle for either Retief or Thomani to snap away.

We then headed westward, which thankfully was more relaxing and gave everyone a chance to settle their tummies …

The fix at Meyerton passed quickly, as did the Rietspruit at Evaton, and onward to the four fixes in the Fochville area.

We then routed southeast towards Vanderbijlpark, flying over Boipatong and Sharpeville before intercepting the confluence of “three rivers” at Vereeniging. We then followed the Suikerbosrant River back towards Heidelberg, and finally back to Brakpan Airfield.  Just over 1.5 hours later we landed back home safely.

Our guests from Working for Wetlands expressed their gratitude for the flight, and confirmed that  they had accomplished what they set out to do.

From the pilots, again, thank you to The Bateleurs for affording us the opportunity to fly for a good cause!!”

Brits Granite Mines


Mission: Brits Granite Mines
Date: 8 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Brits Bankeveld Bewarings Forum (BBBF)
Location: Brits, Nortwest Province
Pilot: Abrie Kruger

This is a photograph of one of the many abandoned granite mines in the Brits area. 

The Bateleurs, in the person of volunteer pilot Abrie Kruger, continues to lend support to the Brits Bankeveld Bewarings Forum (BBBF) in its quest to remedy the degradation wrought by unregulated legal and illegal granite mining operations near Brits.  Here is the latest report from Andrie Loubser of the BBBF:

“Once again The Bateleurs gave us the privilege of taking to the sky over Brits in Abrie Kruger’s Beaver.

All the new amendments to environmental and mining law and all the new regulations create the impression that perpetrators are finally going to come face to face with the business end of serious state management. So, with the expectations of true believers, we set out on a mission to determine the effect of this legislation intended to protect the environment, especially as this relates to the granite mines.

Alas!!! Nothing of the sort applies to the mining fraternity. Further to our reportback in December 2007, even more granite mines have stopped operations.  But there has been no rehabilitation.  I repeat – no rehabilitation.  In response to an enquiry as to why they have stopped mining, a miner said they were cutting their stone stock into slabs, on site.  This allows another peculiarity to surface: the Environment Management Program (EMP) report has been amended by public servants in the Department of Minerals & Energy (DME) to enable “industry” instead of “mining”.  So much for public participation and public concern regarding the cumulative effect.  Is this not an example of how they make a farce of legislation?

We also noted that two new granite mines have opened – very quietly and discreetly. Again, so much for public participation.  It appears that the more our various government departments amend the laws, the more the DME reverts to the methodology of the previous dispensation, with its indifference to civil society.  This 007 approach by the DME is not conducive to democracy as we know it.”

The destruction of arable land  and biodiversity

Brits_Mining2_08062008The photo shows arable land near Brits, ruined as a result of mining activities in its midst. 

“In the last ten years at least 2000 Ha of oxygen manufacturing veld has been denuded of oxygen manufacturing plants – by mining practices of course.  Add to this the carbon footprint produced by mining practices and poorly-serviced machinery, and you get an ugly picture of dirty money being made.  And we have not even entered into this equation the calculated destruction of biodiversity, never mind the re-institution thereof.

It really is a pity that South Africa, a country with a progressive constitution, does not see its way clear to having a government department geared to protect and guide economic and other actions in such a way that the environment and citizens are not the losers. The only way we can regard the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism (DEAT), at present, is that it is a fifth column, doing its best to accommodate foreign perpetrators by fragmenting responsibility and accountability amongst government departments, thereby allowing the perpetrators to get away.

The present vogue in government is to don blinkers, work up a lather to secure investments, and then wallow in the material benefits.  This approach does not take into account the vast amount of raw materials that leave our shores.  Something is going to give – and who will then be blamed? Slavery?

The photos taken on this recent Bateleurs flight speak for themselves.  After take-off, heading south, we could see ahead of us the ghastly air that our ‘Frates and Sores’ in Gauteng are forced to breathe.  One of these days aeroplanes will simply glide, as though on skis, over this thick blanket of pollution.

WESSA is now actively involved in the Brits region, under the leadership of John Wesson.  The overall biodiversity conservation is their concern. We are more than willing to assist them with photographic material obtained with the assistance of The Bateleurs. It is the voices of concern that must be heard. The photos speak in a voice that transcends all language barriers.  There is a worldwide groundswell from people who are concerned about the environment.  We will surf this swell and spread the word of survival of the species in our own little corner of the world to support them.”

Working for Wetands – The Waterberg


Mission: Identify Wetland Habitats Suitable for Rehabilitation
Date: 4 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetands
Location: The Waterberg, Limpopo Province
Pilot: Rob Osner and
Tony Kent

The Bateleurs have again supported Working for Wetands with its annual planning exercise, flying six separate missions in different parts of South Africa to identify and mark problem wetlands.  These areas are then visited on foot for the planning of actual interventions.  We include for you here extracts from some of the reports we received following this mid-year exercise:

The following extract was taken from the detailed and informative report provided by Doug McCulloch, the area manager for Working for Wetlands in Limpopo:

“The objective of the flight was to try to identify problems within wetlands that may require intervention.  Once identified from the air, and with the co-ordinates marked, the problem sites will be visited during subsequent field trips and assessed on the ground.

The weather was perfect.  The cold front that had arrived some days previously had flushed the dust and smoke from the Highveld air, leaving cloudless skies and outstanding visibility. The half hour flight to the Mokolo Dam took us over some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.

The Moloko River ahd its associated wetland habitat proved to be in a healthy state with very few problems identified from the air.  This is a valuable result since, when rehabilitating wetlands on a catchment basis, finding wetlands that don’t require work is just as important as identifying those that do.

Our Bateleurs pilots – Rob Osner with Tony Kent as co-pilot – were in their element.  Their enthusiasm and willingness to accommodate the whims of a passenger who wanted to check obscure drainage lines and circle and double back, all the time, was most apprieciated.

The flat floodplain adjacent to the Nyl River has been used extensively in the past as crop lands.  This has led to significant anthropogenic manipulation such as furrow-excavation and berm construction to divert water and drain areas.  However, recently the emphasis has changed, with many of the landowners using the floodplain as grazing for beef cattle.  It is therefore to their
Benefit that the wetland remains wet for longer periods to provide dry-season grazin.  This coincides neatly with the objectives of Working for Wetlands.

The survey ended with the Nyl floodplain and an uneventful trip back to Brakpan rounded off a very successful trip.  The subsequent field trip yielded substantial amounts of rehabilitation work which, if all goes according to plan, will lead to the improved functioning and conservation of the Nylsvley system.

The Bateleurs, through Rob and Tony, have played a major part in this effort, by helping to identify the problems quickly and efficiently over a large area of land.”

Wild Dog Tracking in Namibia


Mission: Wild Dog Tracking in Namibia
Date: 27 May 2008
Requesting organisation: Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project
Location: Tsumkwe District, Namibia
Pilot: Nico Louw

Our only Bateleur pilot in Namibia, Nico Louw, sent us this report after having flown a second mission for Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project:

“After flying for the Wild Dog Project in the Tsumkwe District in November 2007, I was asked by Robin Lines to do another flight in May, to locate the packs of wild dogs he is monitoring.

I left Windhoek on Friday 23rd May and returned on Tuesday, 28th May.  A total of 9.6 hours was flown.  The purpose was to locate the packs and then to drive to them, to do a pack assessment.

It seems quite certain that the expensive collar that Robin fitted last year has malfunctioned – adding to his frustration.  A collared dog had died last year and there are now only two packs that can be monitored.

Robin’s effort to get the local people in the Nye-Nye conservancy to locate new packs for him, for remuneration, was met with only lukewarm enthusiasm.  The local Bushmen live in harmony with the dogs as they do not have livestock and will confiscate the dog’s hunt if it is close to their village.  The Bushmen know when a hunt is complete, as the dogs give a locating bark when the prey is down.

As an aerial perspective is very important to the project, Robin is in the process of getting his own private pilot license.  This will give a boost to the whole project as a Cessna 172 is available for use by the project.

The flights were done at 10,000 to 11,000 feet (to locate the dogs only, and not for visuals) and even though one pack was quite close to the camp we had to do two flights before we found the dogs on the ground.  This was due to the very thick vegetation (grass and bushes) and both dogs and dog- seekers were often startled when they met face to face at only 5 metres apart.

Robin did not want low flying as he felt this would upset the dogs.  Again, my flying skills were sharpened on the 330-metre strip and rotation was usually metres from the end of the runway.  One of our landings was nearly on top of a well-camouflaged cheetah that darted away at the last moment, although a jackal on the strip at the same time was more casual and simply moved out of harm’s way.
As always it was a pleasure to work with Robin and with an average flying time of two hours per day, definitely not exhausting.”

wild_dogs2_27052008The Bateleurs in Bushmanland, by Robin Lines

We were very pleased to receive the report, below, from Robin Lines of the Namibian Wild Dog Project, who also contributed  the two superb photos of Wild Dogs that accompany this story. 

“The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is both Namibia’s and Southern Africa’s most endangered large mammal and one of the world’s most endangered canids. Numbers have declined by 99% in Namibia since pre-agricultural times and now stand at between 156-259 adults and yearlings in <36 breeding packs, 98% of which live outside protected areas in a mosaic of rangelands on the western edges of the Kalahari.

The last remaining packs roam the isolated wildernesses of NE Namibia, adjacent to the Botswana border, in the former Bushmanland now known as Tsumkwe District, and proclaimed as Communal Conservancies under the management of local San communities of the !kung group of languages.

To access and work in these areas requires immense determination as infrastructure and support systems are almost nonexistent. Mogas must be driven in from 300km away and Avgas from 500km. Weeks are spent working on the ground tracking and following the wild dogs, driving off-road through the bush until animals are caught up with, captured and collared for monitoring. Data regarding the sizes of packs, feeding ecology, mortality causes and reproductive success are used to motivate institutional support for management intervention. Without these data it is likely the population would decline to almost zero without the Government noticing.

With home ranges in excess of 3,000km2 it is essential to secure air support to locate the VHF radio collared packs. The radio transmitters in the collars have a range of 3km from the ground but up to 30km from the 5000AGL. Once the position has been established a ground crew goes in by vehicle to update records on the pack’s progress.

So it is with immense gratitude that the Wild Dog Project could rely once again on the experience and support of The Bateleurs and Nico Louw, flying V5-FUV. Nico assisted the project in 2007 and his considerable experience and skills allowed us to work from isolated and improvised airstrips on dry pans far from the ‘main’ airstrip in Tsumkwe. Two packs were located in quick succession and follow-up ground work found the dogs, albeit in thick bush requiring some considerable bundu-bashing in my 1986 Hilux.

As a result of trips like these some solid data has been gathered, quantified and presented to the main stakeholders at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, who are now looking seriously at the possibiity of re-introducing wild dogs to Etosha National Park. Fingers crossed.

In addition to the tracking flights Nico also gave one of the local community members a very special experience. !Kxoa Nxao had been living and hunting his traditional lands in this area for 66 yrs when he was flown over them for the first time. The stories floating through the air from around the village fire could be heard long into the night above the calls of hyena and boisterous elephant.

So I extend my thanks and gratitude to Nico, and all at The Bateleurs, once more.”

The Beach Blues

Mission: The Beach Blues
Date: 14 April 2008
Requesting organisation: Nguni Prouctions on behalf of Carte Blanche
Location: Durban Beachfront, Kwazulu Natal
Pilot: Barry de Groot

Bateleur pilot Barry de Groot flew Nicky Troll of Nguni Prouctions, on behalf of Carte Blanche, along the Durban beachfront to monitor levels of pollution in the sea off the beaches and around the corner of the Bluff where, it is alleged, sewage is being pumped directly into the sea.

While Barry’s flight was successful there was not much evidence of any real pollution at the time.  Nevertheless Nicky Troll has delivered to us a DVD which resulted from this mission, and the programme was flighted by Carte Blanche on 27th April 2008, but unfortunately we have no still photographs to present here.