2008 Missions

East Coast Survey with Michael McBride


Mission: East Coast Survey with Michael McBride
Date: 30 March 2008
Requesting organisation: The Bateleurs and Michael McBride
Location: KwaZulu Natal
Pilot: Paul Dutton

Paul Dutton flies Michael McBride

Report to The Bateleurs concerning flights from 26 to 29 March from Ballito, south to Port Grosvenor and north to St Lucia, in Paul Dutton’s Piper Super Cub, Spirit of the Wilderness, for open window photography of proposed mining to the south and ongoing mining to the north.

“Lucky the person who has the chance to fly over the vast grandiosity of Africa;  luckier still the one who finds himself flying with veteran Game Ranger, passionate environmentalist and Bateleurs pilot, Paul Dutton of Salt Rock, on a designated mission.  We flew to acquaint the passenger with an eagle’s eye view of an important situation below which deserves the attention of South Africa and the world.

Anyone who is in love with this great green and blue planet is immediately reminded that no map, drive in a car, or walk on a trail can give one the same spreading perspective as that generously given from the air.  Soaring midway between cloud and earth one is able to suspend the disbelief that these purposeful missions are anything but powerful and effective.  We may be rattled by the sound of the engine and wind rushing past, but we know intuitively the profoundness of the silence that surrounds us.  Using that metaphor, just as we know that we are surrounded by assaults on nature, we know also that we are all working together as conservationists and environmentalists, because we all need and cre about clean air and water and healthy land, for ourselves and our children.

There is a good deal more to flying a truly successful mission for Lighthawk, as I have been doing for many years in Alaska, or for The Bateleurs as I have been privileged to do on the Wild Coast and over St Lucia.  As important as is the preflight inspection and topping up the tanks is the preparation of the passenger and post -flight follow up.  It might be said that the flight itself is the bread in the sandwhich, while the meat is the before and after process.   

Flying the KwaZulu coast reminded me of the fact that the privilege we enjoy as pilots and passengers has with it a burden of responsibility, made lighter than air with the fun, the delight and the pure pleasure that comes with being in love with and sharing our affection for this great green and blue, loving and forgiving earth.”


mike_and_paul2_052008Paul and Mike flying over the proposed N2 route along the Wild coast

This is the Report from our pilot,  Paul Dutton

“Herewith the ‘meat’ of the sandwich that Mike McBride most eloquently refers to in his report on our mission of  26 to 29 March 2008, together with some insights into his polyvalent interests in the natural environment.

Raison d’être for the mission:  To provide an opportunity for visiting Alaskan pilot and advisor to LightHawk, Michael McBride, to experience two of South Africa’s most spectacular natural areas, the Wild Coast and iSimangaliso (formerly the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park).  This Bateleurs-supported mission gave Mike an insight into the potential and current impacts of opencast mining on ecologically sensitive coastal dunes along the Wild Coast and at Richard’s Bay.

Modus operandi and results:  Flying was accomplished in my PA-18 ZS-DLI Spirit of the Wilderness,  mainly at 500ft or lower altitudes, to obtain aerial images of the two contentious areas. Total flight time was 8 hours. The following e-mail was sent to the CEO of  iSimangaliso, Mr Andrew Zaloumis: 

‘Dear Andrew

I attach a few images of RBM which make it look like it’s operation is on finals for  iSimangaliso’s southern boundary. Can I ask you to send one of the images that shows  RBM on the crest of the dune forest above the sea to the Environmental Impact practitioner who should be monitoring the implementation of the Environmental Management Plan.  Furthermore, RBM should be putting aside a considerable percentage of its profits to cover the final rehabilitation programme once it has reached the end of its concession area. Please feel free to forward these observations under my name.’

Additional accomplishments resulting from Mike’s visit:  Mike gave a talk to members of the Ballito Microlight Club on general aviation and conservation issues in Alaska, as well as insightful observations on our mission over the Wild Coast and iSimangaliso. He also took up the cudgels in support of our concern for Bazaruto’s threatened Dugong, and has already alerted icons in  various fields of the natural sciences, asking for their assistance to try to save this species from imminent extinction.

As I write Mike is on a Wilderness Trail in the iMfolozi Game Reserve, with a group that includes our first participant from a local informal settlement characterised by a high crime rate. We are hoping this first intake will facilitate raising additional funds to sustain and expand the programme.”

Leopard Tracking in the Cedarberg


Mission: Tracking a Leopard with a Problem
Date: 28 January and 27 Febuary 2008
Requesting organisation: Cape Leopard Trust
Location: Cedarberg Mountains, Western Cape
Pilot: Johan Ferreira

Between January and March The Bateleurs have flown two monitoring missions for the Cape Leopard Trust.  Quinton Martins sent a short report to say that he and pilot Johan Ferreira had flown to track the movement of collared leopard in the Cedarberg mountains of the Western Cape, at the end of January, and again at the end of February 2008.

In particular they were trying to locate leopard F6 with whom there appeared to be a problem.  Quinton wrote:

“The signal is coming from the same place all the time – we are searching the area on foot now that we have identified a 300m x 100m area where either she or the collar have been for some time. We had a great flight, as per usual – really stunning. I will let you know as soon as we have information on the whereabouts of F6.”

Since then we have received the above photograph of a beautiful male leopard rescued from a gin-trap in the Hantam Mountains of the Northern Cape.  Having been located, darted and “stretchered” off the mountain, the 49 kg leopard was examined by veterinary surgeon, Dr Andre van der Merwe, who declared that he was absolutely fine.  Luckily the gin-trap used was small and had done no damage to the leopard other than some local swelling to his left front paw, where the trap had taken hold.  The animal was measured, tissue samples were taken and he was re-released later the same day.  Rescuers included Jaco van Deventer of Cape Nature, on the left in the photo, and Quinton Martins, on the right, who had worked with a team of CLT staff and workers on the farm where this dramatic rescue took place.

Final Mission for the Oceanographic Research Institute


Mission: Aerial Survey of the KwaZulu-Natal Coast to Determine the Total Shore Angling Effort
Date: 22 February 2008
Requesting organisation: Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI)
Location: KwaZulu Natal
Pilot: Steve McCurrach

From the left:  Steve McCurrach, Bateleur Director and pilot,
with Bruce Mann of the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI).

In early February Steve McCurrach flew the final monitoring mission for the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) – for now, that is.  Steve has done sterling work in co-ordinating all the flights in 2007 and 2008 for ORI, working with a dedicated group of volunteer pilots in KwaZulu Natal.  The Bateleurs would like to thank this particular group of KZN pilots, who are mentioned by name in the report from ORI, below.  Their commitment to the ORI monitoring missions, over an extended period of time, is very much appreciated.

ori2_feb08Final report and thanks from Bruce Mann of ORI

The little dots on the beach close to the surf are anglers on the shore at Amatikulu
– they are very visible in a bigger photo!

The Bateleurs assist in an aerial survey of the KwaZulu-Natal coast to determine the total shore angling effort
By Bruce Mann, Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban

“A randomised aerial survey of the KZN coast was undertaken between March 2007 and February 2008. A total of 36 flights were conducted with 18 flights along the north coast (Virginia to Kosi Bay) and south coast (Virginia to Port St Johns) respectively. Twenty-four weekday flights were conducted in the KZN Wildlife aircraft (Cessna 182), while 12 weekend flights were conducted by The Bateleurs, using a variety of aircraft including Cessna 172s, a Rainbow Cheetah and even an RV8! Ground-truthing revealed that the aerial counts of shore anglers had an accuracy of about 91%. As expected, angler effort was significantly higher over weekends and on good weather days. Seasonality of shore angling effort showed that the greatest effort occurred during the winter months (June to September) coinciding with the seasonal availability of shad (Pomatomus saltatrix) along the KZN coast. Interestingly, angling effort declined substantially during October and November coinciding with the closed season for this important angling species. This result demonstrates the effectiveness of such regulations in reducing the total fishing effort.

More developed stretches of the KZN coast with higher population densities and greater angler access (e.g. Durban Metro) had the highest angling effort. Results from the aerial survey were significantly lower than the results obtained by KZN Wildlife shore patrols over the same time period, emphasising the importance of aerial surveys in calculating total angler effort in fisheries where effort is dispersed over a large area.”

ori3_feb08Only in Africa – and Steve thought he was doing a marine survey!

The photo of cows making themselves very
at home on a landing strip does, in fact,
arise from one of the ORI survey flights.

To continue with Bruce’s report:
“The total annual angler effort along the KZN coast was calculated at 843 702 angler days per year which represents a 43% decline from a similar estimate made in 1994-96. This decline in shore angling effort is largely attributed to increased crime levels (anglers are scared to go fishing along parts of the coast), as well as to the impact of the beach vehicle ban reducing anglers ability to access more remote areas of the coast. These factors have also resulted in a change in the pattern of shore fishing which is now focused at beach access points rather than being more evenly distributed along the coast. Based on the results of this study, important recommendations have been made to try and improve current management of the KZN shore fishery.”

Aerial Survey for Dugong


Mission: Aerial Survey for Dugong in the Bazaruto National Park
Date: 12 February 2008
Requesting organisation: Nguni Productions for 50/50
Bazaruto National Park, Mozambique
Barry de Groot, Chris Rattray and Paul Dutton

Current Account of The Aerial Survey for Dugong in the Bazaruto National Park by Paul Dutton
Dugongs then and now
Dugong Population Trends
The Dugong Survey Team

This mission for The Bateleurs is one of very few in which Paul Dutton plays the part of a passenger, and not the pilot.  In fact, for this flight he was wearing his ecologist’s hat, and following the survey he produced a wonderfully detailed scientific report, from which we present the following extract:

Current Account of The Aerial Survey for Dugong in the Bazaruto National Park by Paul Dutton

“The Mozambique coastal littoral (i.e. the zone between the high and low tide marks) is blessed with many extensive inshore marine grass habitats suitable for the herbivorous Dugong, pictured above, which used to occur from Inhaca to the Rovuma River. The introduction of large mesh gill nets in 1976, set for the harvesting of sharks, has been the principal cause of the demise of the Dugong throughout their former range.

The Bazaruto Archipelago is situated in the Inhassoro and Vilankulu districts of the Inhambane Province.  It has extensive marine grass habitats which supported a widely distributed population of Dugongs, estimated at 150 animals in 1990. Since then at least 10 aerial surveys, up to February 2008, indicate that the population is now estimated to be less than 30, with only two nucleus breeding pairs. Most of the original study area is now depleted of Dugongs because of the trappings and subsequent incidental drownings.

Mozambique’s fisheries and Port Captain authorities continue to facilitate the use of gill nets within the boundaries of the national park.  This makes a very difficult task for the conservation authority – Direcção Nacional da Áreas da Conservação (DINAC) – which is charged with controlling the continuing destruction of the Dugong.

Dugongs have a very important niche in the marine environment.  They convert the little-used marine grasses into useful nutrients for the benefit of other mariner fauna, such as fish, and the reported reduction of fish catches in the two districts could be the result of the demise of the Dugong.”

dugong2s_feb08Dugongs then and now

Dyllan Smith, cameraman for Nguni Productions and 50/50, preparing to make the most of an aerial perspective.

“From 1969 until 2003 there were several reports of Dugong sightings in the vicinity of the Bazaruto Archipelago, and until the early 1970s there were  also accounts of Dugongs in other suitable sea grass habitats near Inhaca, Inhambane, Chitenguela, and Angoche. The intensification of large mesh gill netting from 1976, coupled with the lack of law enforcement, has been the principal cause of the decline of Dugongs in Mozambique.  This decline extends, as far as is known, up to the Somalia border with Kenya.

The population of Dugongs at Inhaca, once numbering about 20, is believed to be extinct also as a result of gill netting. Small numbers of Dugongs have been reported near Lingalinga, Inhambane, but their current status is not known.  The present situation at Angoche is also unknown, and my own enquiries indicate that Dugongs are now extinct on the northern coast of Mozambique.  There are reports from further north that Dugongs are now extinct on the Tanzanian coast, with only a few isolated groups in the Lamu district of Kenya.  So it appears that Bazaruto has the last remnant population of Dugongs, now numbering about 20 animals with only two breeding pairs, the rest being lone males.  

It is illegal to kill Dugong in Mozambique and the offence carries a fine of 50 000 000 Meticais, or 16 000 Rand.  However, there were no convictions on record until 2008 when a local fisherman was arrested for having the remains of a recently killed Dugong on his property. There is anecdotal evidence that flesh from captured Dugong was served on occasions at Margaruque island, and Vilankulo’s Port Captain once prepared a special meal of Dugong flesh for ex president Chissano!  It is only recently that gill nets have been banned in the vicinity of the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, but illegal nets are still being set, some close to where the last breeding groups of Dugong occur.

Since 1990 systematic surveys of Dugongs within the Bazaruto area have been undertaken by various researchers using different methodologies and search intensities.  Aircraft have flown at altitudes varying from 100m to 150m, along selected transect lines with sample strip widths varying from 368 to 500 m. Low tide and calm periods were preferred for counting. The average flight time covering the study area varied from three to five hours.  Despite these varying methodologies, a useful indication of Dugong population trends has nevertheless emerged.  For the current survey a total of 14 transects 5km apart from abeam Inhassoro to Quewene Bay were flown at 80 miles/hour at an average altitude of 600ft ASL. Observations for this survey included animals recorded within an estimated 1000m on either side of the aircraft. Three observers participated in the survey.”

dugongs3_feb08Dugong Population Trends

Bateleur pilot, Barry de Groot, flying over Benguerua

“Whereas it was possible during earlier surveys to derive reasonable estimates using statistical analysis, the current sparse and unevenly distributed population makes this impractical and produces biased estimates.  For this reason the 2003 survey attempted a total count by increasing the search intensity to 35% over an extended flight time of five hours.  This total was augmented by reports of a number of individual animals from various operators in the study area.

After 18 years of survey there is little doubt that the current status of the Dugong is critical and immediate action must be taken to address the imminent extinction of the Bazaruto Archipelago Dugong. Credit must be given to the Direcção Nacional da Florestas e Fauna Bravia (DNFFB) and now Direcção Nacional da Áreas da Conservação (DINAC) for trying to prevent the use of gill nets in the proclaimed boundaries of Parque Nacional da Bazaruto, using limited means due to inadequate budgets – for example, there is no money to cover fuel costs for the patrol boat at Sitone.

It is recommended that future air surveys should concentrate effort where the last of the Dugong occur, according to the 2008 survey, and that transect lines should be established at least 1km apart to arrive at a total rather than sample count.  Also, funds should be sought to reinforce the current public conservation awareness campaign which could include posters for distribution throughout the Vilankulu and Inhassoro districts, as well as the provision of school exercise books with an image of a Dugong on the front cover and information on its usefulness on the inside cover, in both Portuguese and Xitswa.”

dugongs4_feb08The Dugong Survey Team

Standing, from the left:  Paul Dutton, Dyllan Smith, Chris Rattray, Ryan Logie and Richard Compton.  Crouching:  Nicky Troll and Barry de Groot.

Paul Dutton, Chris Rattray and Barry de Groot are Bateleur pilots.  Although a pilot, on this occasion Paul requested this mission and acted as the guide for the Dugong survey.  Dyllan, Ryan, Richard and Nicky comprised the four-person media team from Nguni Productions, contracted by 50/50.  Between them the entire team produced a very fine documentary describing the Dugong crisis which was screened by 50/50 on Monday, 17th March 2008 – with excellent coverage for The Bateleurs as well as the Dugongs.

Paul’s report, continued:
“The status of Dugongs in the entire Western Indian Ocean region, including the satellite islands, is critical.  This is due mainly to the use of gill nets set for harvesting sharks.  for their fins (Marsh, H. H 2001). The fact that there are still a few breeding groups in the Bazaruto population (estimated at 20) provides probably the last opportunity to save them from extinction.

The study area in which Dugongs occurred during the period 1990 until 1994 contained a well distributed population including a breeding nucleus of 30 animals. Recent surveys indicate these areas are now devoid of animals. The current survey shows that Dugongs are now concentrated near islands and Sanctuary.

Managing this smaller area will assist anti-poaching measures and the removal of illegal nets by all the lodges located in the Park, in collaboration with the Direcção Nacional da Areas da Conservação (DINAC).  Also, DINAC, which administers the Park, should be given the means to manage the remaining few Dugongs.

Once again, The Bateleurs – Flying for the Environment in Africa responded to an urgent call for help by sourcing the pilots and aircraft and paying for the fuel for the survey of the Bazaruto National Park’s last Dugongs.  Bateleurs pilots Chris Rattray and Barry de Groot showed their piloting skills in getting our team of seven safely to Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago, and again during six hours of precision flying along survey transects to obtain a count of the highly threatened Dugongs.

The 50/50 team comprising Nicky Troll, Richard Compton, Ryan Logie and Dyllan Smith must be commended for their hard work and enthusiasm in covering the labyrinthian eco-political intrigues that characterise Bazaruto’s highly threatened Dugongs.”

Tracking Cheetah in the Kgalagadi


Mission: Cheetah Tracking at the Kgalagadi
Date: 10 January 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project

Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Pilot: Willie Snyman

Bateleur pilot, Willie Snyman (left) and Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project, with Willie’s helicopter in the background.

Tracking the elusive cheetahs in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, by Gus Mills

“The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Cheetah Project is aimed at identifying the ecological role, behavioural adaptations, demographic parameters, conservation status and threats to the cheetah in the southern Kgalagadi ecosystem.

An important aspect of this study is to understand the movement patterns of the cheetahs. To this end a number of cheetah have been fitted with radio collars. Although we expected the cheetah to range widely in this arid system, we did not expect them to move quite as extensively as they do. The females appear to be especially wide-ranging,  covering areas well in excess of 1 500 km². So even with radio collars we can usually only detect a signal from 5 – 10 km from the ground.
The solution, therefore, is to get into the air from where the line-of-site transmitters can be picked up from 30km or more, and from where it is possible to cover large areas much more quickly than plodding through the dunes in a vehicle. For this reason we have turned to The Bateleurs for help and are most grateful for the positive way in which this difficult request has been approached. It is difficult, not only because the Kalahari is far away from flight centres, but also because this is a request for frequent help, not a one-off situation.”

cheetahs2_jan08Two of the elusive cheetah on a sand dune in the Kgalagadi

“On Thursday 10th January 2008 we did our first Bateleur flight, with local farmer Willie Snyman as the volunteer pilot, in his wonderful Robinson 44 helicopter. We were particularly interested in locating two females which we have not seen for some time – Thelma who was last seen on 01 October 2007 and who then had two small cubs in a den, and D’Urbyl, a female who was collared on 1 November. Despite flying for two hours over the areas where we last saw these two females we unfortunately were not able to pick up a signal. However, we did locate a single male, Harken, and John and Allen, a two-male coalition, so the flight was well worthwhile.

We look forward to many more flights with Willie and other pilots, and I am sure that sooner or later our luck will change and we will find the missing females. One thing is certain, we have a far better chance of doing so from the air than from the ground.”