Objective of the flight:

To inform Conservation South Africa (CSA) of the population numbers, density, and location of feral and domestic donkeys and horses on the 208339.66 ha Succulent Karoo section of Steinkopf.Report from the beneficiary:

“CSA works in biodiversity hotspots around the country.  A biodiversity hotspot is scientifically defined as areas with very high biodiversity (0.5% of global plant diversity and at least 1500 endemic plant species) and also under threat from human activities. The Succulent Karoo, where this Bateleurs mission took place, is one such biodiversity hotspot, and one of only two biodiversity hotspots in the world.

CSA’s niche is to be the intermediary between Conservation International’s global networks, experience and initiatives, and a targeted programme of national and landscape level interventions that promote a holistic Green Economy in South Africa. The Namakwaland field office pursues this through a number of projects, including biodiversity stewardship in partnership with local farmers.

CSA has been running a biodiversity stewardship project, the Biodiversity and Red Meat Initiative, in the Kamiesberg region in Namakwa for several years.  In 2012, CSA began to expand this initiative into a new area – the Steinkopf Communal Lands north-west of Springbok. The area identified for biodiversity stewardship engagements with farmers is the 208339.66 ha Succulent Karoo section of communal land in the Steinkopf area, Nama Khoi, which contains within it a 17,000ha level 1 Critical  Biodiversity Area (CBA1) known as iKosis-Rooiberg.  The remaining portion of Steinkopf communal lands is not classified as Succulent Karoo and therefore falls outside the Biodiversity Hotspot with which CSA is concerned.

Part of biodiversity stewardship involves the establishment of a management plan to inform farmers of sustainable land management practices and sustainable livestock management systems that are relevant to their particular area. In 2012, CSA completed a vegetation classification and veld condition assessment for the 17,000ha CBA1, mapped the area, and made recommendations regarding management units and grazing capacities. It was noted during this process that there appeared to be large numbers of feral horses and donkeys on the CBA1 and this was thought to be of management concern. As part of our mapping of the site, and the development of land management plans and conservation actions for the communal farms in this area, we needed to get a clear idea of how many donkeys and horses there are, and their actual rather than perceived densities.

The objective of the flight was, therefore, to inform CSA on the density of feral and domestic donkeys and horses on the 208339.66 ha Succulent Karoo section of communal land in the Steinkopf area. An increased understanding of the size and nature of the challenge would then be used to inform the conservation actions designed for the site and worked into conservation agreements and monitoring frameworks with the land-users.

Bateleurs were asked to support CSA by flying 12 roughly north-south transects across the study area so that CSA staff could record number of donkeys as well as their locations in the landscape.

The mission was a great success. Together with Mark and Steve, CSA counted several hundred donkeys and horses in the study area.  This confirmed expectations. This confirmed also that horses and donkeys as livestock units are of management concern in the Steinkopf area.  We were also able to confirm that the donkey and horse population is concentrated in and around the 17,000ha CBA1, which is CSA’s priority area from a biodiversity conservation perspective. CSA’s Field Ecologist will process the data collected and use this to inform management plans and conservation actions in the priority area, for implementation as part of CSA’s work with Steinkopf farmers.”

Report from the pilot:

“On 13 October 2013, Steve and I flew from Stellenbosch to Springbok, refuelled and departed for the survey area with Amanda and Halcyone on board. We flew numerous transects on order to survey an area about 60km by 28km at an approximate height of 1000ft AGL at 110kts. We had clear skies for our mission, but a fresh southerly wind created some stomach churning turbulence at the altitudes we flew. We planned to survey a transect width of 2.5km.The survey flight duration was 3.9 hours.

Our transects were in a northerly and southerly direction and were over undulating territory which included some very flat regions as well as hills and mountains. The area is cut by many river courses, either going through very rugged and broken rocky mountainous terrain or across flat plain areas. The whole survey region was extremely dry with little or no water in the river beds. Vegetation was scrubby and low, with trees rarely occurring, other than in river beds. Quiver (kokerboom) and Elephant’s trunk (halfmens) trees were seen on some of the rocky areas and mountain tops. Also of interest were the many abandoned prospecting trenches and holes, clearly left without any intention to rehabilitate.

Engine management and the requisite planning to ascend and descend over the high ground kept us busy while flying the transects. This was an exercise in coordination which demanded significant concentration from us. However, I felt bad about taking the ladies on such a bumpy ride.

Judging from Halcyone and Amanda’s response, we achieved the objective, having counted in excess of 200 horses and donkeys. They commented that the data collected will give a dependable basis for estimating the total population of these animals, to progress with their plan to remove them and allow the vegetation to return to a position of sustainability thereby allowing vegetation coverage to normalise.

It was our great privilege and pleasure to meet and work with these two highly skilled and dedicated conservationists. We wish them well in their endeavours and hope that the Bateleurs will be able to help them again.”