The Bateleurs provides a free of charge aviation service to environmentalists throughout southern Africa and further afield.
Please contact us!
The Bateleurs provides a free of charge aviation service to environmentalists throughout southern Africa and further afield.
Please contact us!
The Bateleurs have had visits this year from two extraordinary human beings – both conservationists and men extremely concerned with the state of our earth.
In March/April Michael McBride spent four weeks meeting with, and imparting his knowledge of flying and sense of wonderment and fun to, as many Bateleurs and friends as possible. We had a simply wonderful time. Shortly after Michael returned to Alaska, Bittu Sahgal, editor of India’s fantastic conservation manazine, Sanctuary Asia, flew in to spend a scant eight days with us.
The Bateleurs, partnered by Africa Geographic, will follow in Bittu’s footsteps by running a similar photographic competition to that of Sanctuary Asia, on climate change – only ours will be from an aerial perspective. Bittu gave a talk on climate change to approximately 350 people in Johannesburg, to “launch” the concept of our photographic competition, for which the strategy and details must still be finalised.
Michael McBride (left) with Jay van Deventer
Mike and Jay are a Bateleurs Patron and a Bateleurs Director and Pilot, respectively. They are pictured here in Jay’s Lambada (a motorised glider).
The Bateleurs is extremely fortunate to be supported by two Patrons – Dr Ian Player, who needs no introduction, and Michael McBride. These exceptional individuals shine as beacons of conservation in South Africa and Alaska, particularly, and throughout the rest of the world. In April this year we were delighted to welcome to South Africa (thanks to the sponsorship by Lufthansa of his return air ticket) our Alaskan patron, Michael McBride.
During his visit to our country we tried to share Michael with as many Bateleurs pilots and friends as possible. Those of you who were lucky enough to have met him and/or heard him speak will know what an extraordinary man he is. What he might not have told you, though, is that he holds a commercial pilot’s licence, a skipper’s licence, has built and runs (together with his wife Diane) one of the top ten wilderness lodges in America, is an ornithologist, an archaeologist, geologist, palaeontologist, has been a Board member of the Smithsonian Institute for two terms, founded and sponsored the Alaskan Coastal Study NGO, was an expedition leader for trips to the Antarctic, the Arctic, the Aleutians and the Falkland Islands, and has recently joined the Board of the Wild Foundation in the USA.
As a member of the Advisory Board of LightHawk, Michael was key in helping me understand the need for an environmental air force in this country. He told me about the missions that he flew for LightHawk, introduced me to the then Executive Director of that organisation – Will Parish – and encouraged me to draw on their experience to help me found The Bateleurs in South Africa.
In mid-April The Bateleurs took the opportunity to organise a “retreat” in the bush in the Lowveld for some of our Bateleurs Directors, and some of our Bateleurs pilots and friends, so that more of us could share the experience of being with and learning from the wonderful resource that is Michael McBride. The photo above shows the people who were able to share in this event.
A photograph of the dock at Kachemak Bay, Alaska, and the amphibian aircraft (which bears a Bateleurs decal!) belonging to Michael McBride.
The 8th World Wilderness Congress, organised by Vance Martin of the Wild Foundation USA and Andrew Muir of the Wilderness Foundation South Africa, was held in October 2005 in Anchorage, Alaska. During Congress many VIPS and other conservation heroes – among them Dr Ian Player, George Schaller and Sylvia Earl – were flown over some of the wild lands in Alaska by Michael McBride and a LightHawk colleague, Kirk Johnson. Bittu Sahgal (and his wife Madhu) were also Michael’s special passengers at this event.
Michael has been an environmental and conservation activist all his life, and has won some amazing battles. Sadly, he lost the one closest to his heart – losing Chennik Lodge in the midst of brown bear habitat, because he opposed the hunting of human-habituated brown bears in the area. Michael, together with his staunch and amazingly talented wife, Diane, live in, own and have run Kachemak Bay Lodge for forty years. His website address is www.alaska_wildernesslodge.com
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.”
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:
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.”
Mission: Wild Dog Tracking in Namibia
Date: 27 May 2008
Requesting organisation: Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project
Location: Tsumkwe District, Namibia
Pilot: Nico Louw
Our only Bateleur pilot in Namibia, Nico Louw, sent us this report after having flown a second mission for Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project:
“After flying for the Wild Dog Project in the Tsumkwe District in November 2007, I was asked by Robin Lines to do another flight in May, to locate the packs of wild dogs he is monitoring.
I left Windhoek on Friday 23rd May and returned on Tuesday, 28th May. A total of 9.6 hours was flown. The purpose was to locate the packs and then to drive to them, to do a pack assessment.
It seems quite certain that the expensive collar that Robin fitted last year has malfunctioned – adding to his frustration. A collared dog had died last year and there are now only two packs that can be monitored.
Robin’s effort to get the local people in the Nye-Nye conservancy to locate new packs for him, for remuneration, was met with only lukewarm enthusiasm. The local Bushmen live in harmony with the dogs as they do not have livestock and will confiscate the dog’s hunt if it is close to their village. The Bushmen know when a hunt is complete, as the dogs give a locating bark when the prey is down.
As an aerial perspective is very important to the project, Robin is in the process of getting his own private pilot license. This will give a boost to the whole project as a Cessna 172 is available for use by the project.
The flights were done at 10,000 to 11,000 feet (to locate the dogs only, and not for visuals) and even though one pack was quite close to the camp we had to do two flights before we found the dogs on the ground. This was due to the very thick vegetation (grass and bushes) and both dogs and dog- seekers were often startled when they met face to face at only 5 metres apart.
Robin did not want low flying as he felt this would upset the dogs. Again, my flying skills were sharpened on the 330-metre strip and rotation was usually metres from the end of the runway. One of our landings was nearly on top of a well-camouflaged cheetah that darted away at the last moment, although a jackal on the strip at the same time was more casual and simply moved out of harm’s way.
As always it was a pleasure to work with Robin and with an average flying time of two hours per day, definitely not exhausting.”
We were very pleased to receive the report, below, from Robin Lines of the Namibian Wild Dog Project, who also contributed the two superb photos of Wild Dogs that accompany this story.
“The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is both Namibia’s and Southern Africa’s most endangered large mammal and one of the world’s most endangered canids. Numbers have declined by 99% in Namibia since pre-agricultural times and now stand at between 156-259 adults and yearlings in <36 breeding packs, 98% of which live outside protected areas in a mosaic of rangelands on the western edges of the Kalahari.
The last remaining packs roam the isolated wildernesses of NE Namibia, adjacent to the Botswana border, in the former Bushmanland now known as Tsumkwe District, and proclaimed as Communal Conservancies under the management of local San communities of the !kung group of languages.
To access and work in these areas requires immense determination as infrastructure and support systems are almost nonexistent. Mogas must be driven in from 300km away and Avgas from 500km. Weeks are spent working on the ground tracking and following the wild dogs, driving off-road through the bush until animals are caught up with, captured and collared for monitoring. Data regarding the sizes of packs, feeding ecology, mortality causes and reproductive success are used to motivate institutional support for management intervention. Without these data it is likely the population would decline to almost zero without the Government noticing.
With home ranges in excess of 3,000km2 it is essential to secure air support to locate the VHF radio collared packs. The radio transmitters in the collars have a range of 3km from the ground but up to 30km from the 5000AGL. Once the position has been established a ground crew goes in by vehicle to update records on the pack’s progress.
So it is with immense gratitude that the Wild Dog Project could rely once again on the experience and support of The Bateleurs and Nico Louw, flying V5-FUV. Nico assisted the project in 2007 and his considerable experience and skills allowed us to work from isolated and improvised airstrips on dry pans far from the ‘main’ airstrip in Tsumkwe. Two packs were located in quick succession and follow-up ground work found the dogs, albeit in thick bush requiring some considerable bundu-bashing in my 1986 Hilux.
As a result of trips like these some solid data has been gathered, quantified and presented to the main stakeholders at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, who are now looking seriously at the possibiity of re-introducing wild dogs to Etosha National Park. Fingers crossed.
In addition to the tracking flights Nico also gave one of the local community members a very special experience. !Kxoa Nxao had been living and hunting his traditional lands in this area for 66 yrs when he was flown over them for the first time. The stories floating through the air from around the village fire could be heard long into the night above the calls of hyena and boisterous elephant.
So I extend my thanks and gratitude to Nico, and all at The Bateleurs, once more.”
Mission: The Beach Blues
Date: 14 April 2008
Requesting organisation: Nguni Prouctions on behalf of Carte Blanche
Location: Durban Beachfront, Kwazulu Natal
Pilot: Barry de Groot
Bateleur pilot Barry de Groot flew Nicky Troll of Nguni Prouctions, on behalf of Carte Blanche, along the Durban beachfront to monitor levels of pollution in the sea off the beaches and around the corner of the Bluff where, it is alleged, sewage is being pumped directly into the sea.
While Barry’s flight was successful there was not much evidence of any real pollution at the time. Nevertheless Nicky Troll has delivered to us a DVD which resulted from this mission, and the programme was flighted by Carte Blanche on 27th April 2008, but unfortunately we have no still photographs to present here.