2009 Missions

Illegal mining in Chimanimani National Reserve


Mission: Identifying areas of illegal gold mining and other important issues requiring the attention of reserve staff
Date: 2 April 2009
Requesting organisation: Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) Unit of the Ministry of Tourism

Location: Chimanimani  National Reserve, Mozambique
Pilot: Craig McKenzie

In January 2009 The Bateleurs was approached by the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) Unit of the Ministry of Tourism, Mozambique, wanting assistance with a flight over the Chimanimani National Reserve.

They wanted to identify areas where illegal gold mining was occurring, to estimate the extent of the problem, and to identify other important issues requiring the attention of reserve staff.  This mission took a considerable amount of planning and was eventually flown in early April by Bateleurs pilot, Craig McKenzie.

chimanimani2This is a photograph of all participants on the Chimanimani mission.  Bateleurs pilot, Craig McKenzie is second from the right, and this is his post-flight report:

It was a real privilege to fly this mission

“Following extensive communication between myself and Madyo Couto of the Ministry of Tourism in Mozambique, the Chimanamani mission got off to a difficult start.  First there was a battle with the Mozambique CAA to issue a simple flight clearance:  despite their promises to issue the clearance first thing on Monday morning, the clearance came through too late so I was compelled to stay over at the Kruger Park.  Secondly, we had earlier (fortunately) established that avgas was not in fact available at Chimoyo, so the planned routing had to be revised; and thirdly, just to jolly things up a little, a few days before the planned date Cyclone Izilda arrived from the Mozambique channel, the after effects of which led to another day’s delay.

On the 2nd April there was still low cloud with winds and scattered showers, but by early afternoon the clouds had lifted and were visible only on the high peaks of the Chimanimani mountains.  After refuelling at Beira routing was to Chimoyo airport to meet the Mozambique crew. There were five observers led by Madyo Couto, including the reserve managers and warden, while some of the Mozambique team had come up from Maputo. Since further delays were not possible, we were very fortunate that visibility was good enough to be able to proceed.
After the briefing we departed for the Chimanimani Reserve, about 20 minutes flying time to the South West. The mountains are nothing short of spectacular; rising from around 2000ft to over 6000ft in horizontal distances of less than 5km. Since the mission was focused on observing the riverine systems, which of course take the shortest route down the mountain, the altitude changes and the cloudy peaks provided a unique challenge.

There is very limited road access into the Reserve and none on the higher reaches where the mining is taking place – so the aerial perspective was invaluable to the team. We observed some access routes used by miners and also saw miners in action, having identified a number of sites where damage is very visible. Photographs and GPS positions were taken, and with the information gathered, the team will be able to plan a swoop on the illegal miners using a foot patrol which will include the security forces.  Best of luck to them – it’s going to be quite a hike, but it is certainly a beautiful and pristine area worthy of all efforts to preserve it.
* Flight time from Chimoyo and back was 2.4 Hours 
* Total time for the mission was 15.45 Hours
* If other pilots need info on flying in Mozambique I will be happy to share.
It was a real privilege to have been able to assist with this mission.”

chimanimani3This photograph records a site where illegal mining is occurring.

Report by Madyo Couto

“Despite the weather being cloudy, the team managed to do roughly two hours of flying over the main areas of Chimanimani National Reserve, including: 

* Mountainous areas along the border with Zimbabwe;
* Along the major water courses;
* Along the eastern boundary of the Reserve;
* Over the Moribane Forest;
* Over the northern area of the Reserve (Mount Tandara); and
* Over Mount Tsetsserra.
During the mission it was possible to verify the incredible conservation value of this area, having spotted numerous montane forests and vast grasslands with no apparent signs of degradation. Along certain rivers on the mountainous parts of the Reserve the team spotted areas where illegal gold mining is occurring. With the support of a GPS, the coordinates of these areas were recorded.
During the mission the team counted about 30 gold miners operating within the Reserve, with no sign of apparent camps. The impact of the gold miners’ activity is easily visible from the air due to the pools that they open along the banks of the water courses. The gold mining is occurring mainly in three areas of the Reserve.  Apart from the impact of mining activity no other habitat degradation was visible from the air.
By providing the opportunity for an aerial perspective of the issues facing the Reserve, The Bateleurs has enabled the management team to collect important information that will help guide future actions for the preservation of the natural resources of the Chimanimani National Reserve.”

The Jukskei River for WET-Africa


Mission: Rehabilitation of the Jukskei River
Date: 29 March 2009
Requesting organisation: WET-Africa (Water & Environment Transformation-Africa) and the SOUL Foundation
Location: Gauteng
Pilot: Justin Bass and Jeremy Woods

Report by Kim Kieser
Report by Justin Bass (pilot)
Report by Jeremy Woods (pilot)


In early 2009 The Bateleurs was invited by WET-Africa (Water & Environment Transformation-Africa) to collaborate in a project to rehabilitate the Jukskei River.  The invitation led to our to our flying, in late March, the first of several missions scheduled for this project.  The first flight involved extensive photography and mapping of the river and problem areas, and will provide the “before” images; subsequent missions will provide a photographic record of “work in progress”, and, finally, the “after” images, as this project reaches completion.

This first mission for WET-Africa required two aircraft, piloted by Bateleurs members Justin Bass and Jeremy Woods, while Bateleur pilot Richard Strever volunteered to provide
the “before” photographs for WET-Africa.  Here is the post-flight report from Kim Kieser, CEO of WET-Africa, followed by short reports from Justin and Jeremy.

Read more ...

Vaal Triangle Air Pollution


Mission: Survey the Extent of Air Pollution over the Vaal Triangle
Date: 28 March 2009
Requesting organisation: groundWork
Location: Vaal Triangle
Pilot: Avroy Shlain

Report by pilot and director Avroy Shlain
Report from Bobby Peek of groundWork

Report by pilot and director Avroy Shlain

During March we were asked to fly Bobby Peek of groundWork, an environmental justice NGO based in Pietermaritzburg, together with a representative of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, to survey the extent of air pollution over the Vaal Triangle.  Bateleurs pilot and director, Avroy Shlain, volunteered for this mission and provided this short post-flight report: 

“If pilots could design weather we would always get what we woke up to on Saturday morning 28th March  –  not a cloud in the very blue sky and a temperature that floated between 23 and 25C.

Scheduled for an 08h30 (local time) take off from Lanseria, I left Sandton at 07h15, stopping en route to pick up some Cokes, water and Lunch Bars as we were to be on the go for a few hours. The traffic was remarkably mild and I arrived ahead of schedule so took the time to get my permit to drive to the hangar and right up to the plane. (I knew that my passengers would have a lot of luggage with them and this would make loading a lot easier.)  Back at the terminal at precisely 08h00 and everyone was on time and we made our way directly to the C182T parked outside the Comair hangars.

With the windscreen cleaned, fuel loaded and pre-flight completed, we left minutes after 08h30 and headed directly to Carltonville, circling over a variety of mines and dumps. With the sun coming up from the east we planned our flyovers so that we had really good lighting over the “bad spots”.  Our route had been explained to me some days before, and this took us over Everton, Vanderbijl, Sasolburg, and ultimately Vereeniging, where I dropped off my two passengers who planned to continue their survey at ground level.

Alternating the photographs with the light behind us, we circled the massive industries in this area and took many photos into the sun, highlighting the ghastly volume of pollution, and making the point to our international visitor – Theodorous Chronopoulos of the Sigrid Rausing Trust.  In addition to physically seeing the problems, up at 5 and 6,000ft one could really smell the facilities we were flying over.

While my passengers claimed to have seen what they had come for, it was interesting for me to hear these two professionals talk about their findings! The enormous effect that the “dumping” of toxic and other waste has had on both ground and surface water is horrifying.  Hopefully the assistance that The Bateleurs has given groundWork will assist these good people to influence the right authority so that these industries are made to clean up their act.”


Report from Bobby Peek of groundWork

From the left:  Theodoros Chronopoulos, Avroy Shlain (pilot) and Bobby Peek.

“On March the 28th, I was fortunate to share a memorable two hour journey with Avroy Shlain, Bateleurs pilot and director, who flew me and Theodoros Chronopoulos of the Sigrid Rausing Trust over the Vaal Triangle, to give us the experience of being above the smells and dust rather than in between.  Well, that is what I thought … !

As we flew over the industrial hub of Sasol I was amazed to recognise the same smell that is found between the fences of Sasol and in Zamdela, the local township downwind of Sasol. This confirmed what we forced Sasol to admit, publicly, in 2000 – that its operations pollute the neighbourhoods of Sasolburg.  In 2000, Sasol did a flyover air pollution sampling process and they picked up high levels of sulphur and volatile organic compounds, confirming the validity of the air sampling performed by the communities in the area.

Over ArcelorMittal, despite the fact that it is operating well below capacity, the haze of dust pollution was immediately evident.   Alarmingly, alongside ArcelorMittal, I saw for the first time the large expanse of toxic waste that they have been storing – for decades.  It is often spoken about but its magnitude can only be appreciated from above.

I was to witness even more of a visually devastating effect on the landscape as we passed over and around the Eskom power plant east of Vanderbijlpark.  The land was scarred from past coal mining and present coal storage areas and toxic waste ash dumpsites.  The ‘power’ of Eskom is oh so evident when you realise that it does whatever it wants, without any checks or balances.  Our government has no control over Eskom.

We were also flown over the West Rand and the gold mines and gold dumps around Carltonville.  These mine dumps are all so well constructed that they look like large swimming pools which could provide some relief from the intense heat of the Vaal summer.  But what these mine dumps actually bring is unseen groundwater pollution.  This includes radio-active contamination and intense dust pollution containing toxic chemicals – highly dangerous when the dry winter winds blow in this part of the world.

It all looked so calm from above, yet the reality on the ground speaks differently.  Just speak to the local people who endure this industrial experience day in and day out!  groundWork would like to thank The Bateleurs and especially Avroy Shlain who made this flight possible for us.”


Grey Crowned Cranes-Belfast


Mission: Grey Crowned Cranes-Belfast
Date: 24 March 2009
Requesting organisation: South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)
Location: Belfast, Mpumalanga
Pilot: Kevin Phillips

Report from pilot Kevin Phillips
A fantastic flight experience, by Ursula Francke of EWT
Aerial view over farms in the Tonteldoos area


Late last year we were contacted by Ursula Francke of the South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).  Ursula needed assistance to search for cranes and their nests in two identified sites in Mpumalanga.  The flight in and around Chrissiesmeer took place in mid-December, while the flight near Belfast was deferred until the 24th of March 2009.  Here is a report from our volunteer pilot Kevin Phillips, also flying his first mission for The Bateleurs, followed by a report from Ursula.


Report from pilot Kevin Phillips

Bateleurs pilot Kevin Phillips with his 2-seater Jora, now classifed as a Light Sport Aircraft (formerly known as a microlight), at the Middleburg airfield.

“This was my first mission for The Bateleurs and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely.  With the interesting weather conditions over the previous couple of weeks, and Ursula’s need to do the survey of the Grey Crowned Cranes before the end of March, we were on short notice as to when exactly we were going to fly.  The initial request was to fly from Ermelo to Belfast and then on to a list of GPS co-ordinates in the area as far away as Dullstroom, and then back to Ermelo.  After a few discussions and changes of plan, we decided to meet at the Middelburg airfield and fly from there, as we could be in the area much earlier and have a better chance of calm air in the morning, so the flight was scheduled for Tuesday 24th March.

The early morning proved to be calm and beautiful and a phone call to Ursula in Ermelo, at 06h00, confirmed that weather was good there too.  I took off from Ingwe for Middelburg at around 07h00 and landed at a calm, fog-free Middelburg, where Ursula was waiting, just after 08h00.  After discussing the plan and route, Ursula and I took off in the general direction of north of Belfast.  The cosmos was in full flower and the landscape was dotted with huge patches of pink and white in amongst the green fields of agriculture and grass – with, of course, the completely black areas where coal is being mined.  Beauty and the unfortunately necessary beast.

Within about 25 minutes we were at the first of 27 waypoints.  This was a fairly large wetland in the Tonteldoos area, where we had our first and only view of (four) Grey Crowned Cranes.  From here we moved on towards Dullstroom and Belfast and 2 hours 22 minutes after taking off, we touched down back at Middelburg.  After a much needed leg stretch and some lunch I took off back to Ingwe at 12h00, landing soon after 13h00.

What a perfect day for flying it was – there was hardly a bump until my flight back from Middelburg to Ingwe.  The visibility was perfect without any fog or mist at any time. The only clouds of any significance were covering the escarpment quite far to the east.  Total flying time for me was 4 hours 48 minutes and I used 67 litres of unleaded 95 octane petrol.

It makes a huge difference flying with someone like Ursula with her knowledge of the area, and the habitats of the cranes, and how the birds are affected by the activities and changes to their environment.  In the Dullstroom area, for example, many dams have been created out of the wetlands for trout fishing.  As beautiful as these dams may look to us humans, the cranes think differently.  The Wattled Cranes are especially fussy about where they nest and don’t appreciate the efforts by farmers who dam the wetlands.  If they don’t like this, I can only imagine what they will think of open cast coal mines destroying the area.  What a pity we don’t have access to a good viable alternative to coal for our energy needs – or do we?”

A fantastic flight experience, by Ursula Francke of EWT

Grey_crowned_cranes2_24032009A view over Lakenvlei and forests in the area.

“The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Crane Conservation aims to ensure the survival of South Africa’s three crane species, the Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus, Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, and the Grey-Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum, and their natural habitats.  This is achieved by improving our understanding of crane biology, identifying and mitigating human induced threats, and encouraging participation and cooperation of communities and institutions, to the benefit of cranes and people.

Towards this goal EWT Crane Conservation field workers are based in all key crane regions in South Africa, including Mpumalanga.  One of the important crane locations within Mpumalanga is Dullstroom and the surrounding areas.  Since cranes prefer as little disturbance as possible when they are breeding, almost all the nesting sites are far from public roads and areas frequented by people, so locating them by vehicle or on foot can be quite a challenge.  Fortunately, Grey Crowned Cranes can easily be seen from the air.  They are large birds with conspicuous white markings on their wings, making aerial observation quite easy.

The 27 points covered during the flight consisted of 24 historic Grey Crowned Crane nest sites plus three more recent sightings.  Although some of the older nest sites have been encroached upon by human activities, several of the sites seemed relatively undisturbed.  While no cranes were seen at any of the fixed points, four Grey Crowned Cranes were spotted near one of the points in the Tonteldoos area, probably a pair with two fledged chicks.  Of concern were two prospecting rigs seen nearby.  This sighting will also be followed up by a physical visit to the land owner to enquire about the situation.


grey_crowned_cranes3_24032009Aerial view over farms in the Tonteldoos area

Two of the historic Wattled Crane nest sites were located within Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve, outside Dullstroom.  Although Wattled Cranes have not been seen there for a while, from the air the habitat seemed ideal for cranes.  The third historic site was located on the western side of Lakenvlei, which has been enclosed by plantations.  No breeding pairs or nest sites were found, although a family group of two adults and two juveniles was seen close to one of the historic breeding sites.  We could find no evidence of recent nesting activity in the nearby wetlands but this may be due to breeding pairs having already fledged their young and moved further away from their breeding areas.

The flight was very helpful in terms of habit monitoring of the fixed points.  Several of the historic nest sites are now affected by damming, afforestation, or other human activities.  Those sites where the habitat looked suitable for Grey Crowned Cranes were noted and will be followed up by physical visits to the landowners for further information regarding possible crane activity.  No Grey Crowned Crane floater flocks were located during the flight.  Also, the findings at the three historic Wattled Crane nest sites confirmed reports received during the past couple of years in terms of habitat and crane presence (or the lack thereof).    

A special thank you goes to Kevin Phillips who volunteered for the mission at short notice.  It was a pleasure working with him throughout, from planning to completion of the flight.  And a special thank you to The Bateleurs – your service is great and it is a pleasure to work with your pilots!”

Wild Coast Monitoring


Mission: Wild Coast Monitoring
Date: 16 March 2009
Requesting organisation: Department Economic Affairs, Environment & Tourism (DEAET), Eastern Cape
Location: Wild Coast, East London to Margate
Pilot: Reid Wardle

The Bateleurs responded to a request from Rob Stegmann of DEDEA for a flight to monitor illegal building and developments along the Wild Coast, from East London to Margate.  While this was one of many Bateleurs flights for Rob Stegmann, it was the inaugural Bateleurs flight for another new pilot member – Reid Wardle of Stutterheim.  Here is the short report from Reid, followed by an account of the mission from Rob Stegmann:

Photo:  Reid Wardle’s ‘reliable, gentle old lady’, ready for a (very) early morning start.

Report from Reid Wardle

“This was my first mission for The Bateleurs so I was not without a certain amount of excitement. So much so that I prepped the old C-170B on the Sunday evening, and made sure the route was carefully planned and that nothing was left to chance.

Monday morning the 16th March saw me awake at 05h00 and after a quick coffee I was into the aeroplane for a pre-dawn take- off.  It was the first time that I had found it necessary to use the
instrument back-lights on the panel, which amused me greatly.

East London Airport was just stirring when I flew into their CTR (controlled airspace) for a landing to pick up Mr Rob Stegmann (the Assistant Manager, CBE, for DEDEA) and Mr Mbuyiseli Mboya (the Legal Advisor to DEDEA).

Established but un-authorised homes along the Wild Coast

Wild_coast2_16032009“Mr Stegmann  and I held our briefing session and I learned what he required of me.  No sooner had we set off when he started recording unauthorised building sites and other operations in river mouths as close to East London as Sunrise on Sea.  Upon crossing the Kei River, his focus was on sand mining sites, illegal homesteads and other buildings within 1km of the high water mark, plus 4×4 and quad bike trails and damage, as well as buildings which had already been served with demolition orders – in order to monitor compliance with the orders.”

wild_coast3_16032009Damage caused by illegal sand mining on the Wild Coast

“We very quickly developed an idea of what each of us wanted and became very engrossed in the work at hand, while Mr Mboya was asked to log all the co-ordinates of the photographed sites
and their corresponding photograph numbers.

We were blessed with superbly calm and clear conditions which allowed us to perform successfully all the tasks required of us.  Rob’s knowledge of flying limitations and previous flying experience was invaluable during the entire survey.  When we reached Port St Johns, we decided to route direct for Margate to take on fuel, as the constant manoeuvering was taking its toll on our supply. It turned out that we had 34 litres in the tanks – which translates to just over half an hour of usable fuel.

A quick juice and a snack at the Margate airport restaurant and we were airborne again and completed the survey in the area to the north of Port St Johns.”

wild_coast4_16032009An un-sanctioned road close to a river on the Wild Coast

“Just south of the Magwa Tea Estate we had to perform a grid search of sorts for a road under construction about which the Department had received complaints.  We found it – photographed and logged it  – and happened upon another which was in gross violation of the law.  After giving it the same treatment, we routed directly for East London, deviating occasionally to log and photograph various sites which we had missed on our way up.

We were forced to fight a strengthening south westerly wind all the way back and had East London control commenting with amusement on our multi-stage landing in the old tail-dragger.  After dropping off Rob and Mbuyiseli (by now we were all on first name terms), I had a pleasant flight back to Rexfield (home), landed and had enough time to wash the salt from the sea haze from the bare aluminium of the Cessna – ensuring that my beautiful lady can maintain her condition for another 57 years!

All in all it was a wonderful experience, from which I learned a great deal and felt just a little useful in doing something for the protection of our wonderful Wild Coast.  The experience was a privilege and I have new respect for people such as Rob Stegmann and Mbuyiseli Mboya who are so committed to protecting our heritage. I wish them every success and hope that they are encouraged by the results that this flight will yield.”