Objective of the flight:

Two missions were flown for Landmark Foundation during 2014. The objective of the first mission was to track and download GPS data from a collared leopard in the Swartberg. Unfortunately this first mission yielded no results and the search was abandoned after three hours. The objective of the second mission was to track and download GPS data from two leopards in the Baviaanskloof area.

Pilot: Barry Lipschitz

Aircraft: Jabiru

Beneficiary: Alessandra Benton and Jeannine McManus, Landmark Foundation

Report from the beneficiary,:

“We set off from Zandvlakte airstrip in the Baviaanskloof to locate and download 2 leopards’ data. The weather cleared up by 2pm when we took off and as we were ascending we located the female very close to the run way.  The VHF signal was strong and we downloaded the data within minutes of locating her. With plenty of food and ideal leopard habitat her range is small, merely 4 500 ha, however this is bound to increase as she has only been collared for three weeks and has likely not covered her entire territory just yet.

We flew further west looking for the big male, Scarface. We didn’t know where his range started and ended so our search was over a vast area. On average males use 30 000ha with one male in the Baviaanskloof occupying 60 000ha. So their territories are very large. After searching the southern and northern mountains at around 4500 to 5500 feet we still had no signal of the leopard.  The terrain is inhospitable, and there are so many caves and crevasses where this male could have been resting that no signal could be picked up. With the area well covered with no signal after a 2.5 hour mission across the mountainous terrain luck was not on our side.

We have only ever reached a 60 % success rate of downloading data from the air in the Baviaanskloof, and the time of day was not ideal to search for the predominantly nocturnal animal. With the flight being dictated by weather we are always grateful to use any time in the air as we can. Despite not finding the leopard our hopes are high and the leopard has only been collared for three weeks, so we will no doubt find this leopard with more effort on the ground and in the air. Our pilot, Barry, was extraordinary, his 60 years of flying experience is amazing to witness. His calm and adventurous nature makes every flight a life experience worth remembering.

A very special thank you to a great pilot, Barry Lipchitz and his awesome Jabiru aircraft, for coming all the way to the Baviaanskloof to assist us in finding these remarkable leopards. Thank you to the Bateleurs for an outstanding initiative and the opportunity to fly with you. Thank you to Zelda Hudson for all your efforts in helping arrange this mission.”