MISSION  29 of  2011

Name of Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Tracking 03 of 2011        
Date of Mission: 19 November 2011
Aircraft used: Robinson R44 helicopter        
Pilot: Andre van Niekerk      
Beneficiary: Kgalagadi Cheetah Project   

Objective of the Flight     

To monitor the movements of cheetahs, which in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are given to moving over areas in excess of 1000 km2, and to locate them so that follow up observations on the ground can be made with special reference to the reproductive success of females

Beneficiary’s story of the mission        By Gus Mills      

Recently we fitted a high tech collar to a young female cheetah in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. On the collar we attached two accelerometers and two GPS units, programmed to take two readings per second. The idea was to measure accurately, for the first time, the speed at which a cheetah runs when chasing its prey. These measurements are to supplement our visual observations and studies of energy use by cheetahs. Also attached to the collar was a small radio transmitter so that we could maintain contact with the cheetah during the experiment. The collar also had a device that would cause it to drop off the animal on completion of the experiment, which lasted 14 days. All went well for the first 12 days.

However, on the twelfth night this particular cheetah, a young adult female called Pie, disappeared. Although they are predominantly diurnal, cheetahs do sometimes move at night. Despite driving around in the vicinity where we had last seen her, for an entire day, and climbing numerous dunes (height gives you better detection range) we were unable to pick up a signal from the transmitter on her collar. Unfortunately this transmitter is not as powerful as the usual transmitters we use on the cheetahs, so the range over which we could have picked up a signal was limited.

With the collar due to drop off the cheetah two days after losing contact with her, I contacted The Bateleurs.  In their usual efficient and concerned manner they quickly found a volunteer pilot, Andre van Niekerk from Upington, who kindly flew out to Twee Rivieren a few days later. We plotted a search grid centred on the point where we had last seen the cheetah, and embarked on an intensive search for the collar. After 2.5 hours we had thoroughly searched the area, but all in vain. Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack!
The collar is lying somewhere in the Kalahari sand, probably with the antenna covered, so that the weak signal is even weaker, with important information and expensive equipment and we will never know where.

Was the objective of the Flight met?

Even with the invaluable help of The Bateleurs, and the most up to date technology, sometimes we just have to accept that nature does not easily give up her secrets.