Tag Archives: Gus Mills

Kgalagadi Cheetah Tracking


Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Tracking
Date: 31 January 2009
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Location: Kgalagadi Reserve, Northern Cape
Pilot: Andre van Niekerk

The Bateleurs has again undertaken to support the work of Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project by providing regular flights to track and record, via GPS, the movements of a number of collared cheetah in the Kgalagadi Reserve.  The first of these flights in 2009 took place on 31st January, and we are very pleased and proud to report that it was flown by a brand new Bateleurs volunteer member, Andre van Niekerk, based in Upington.  This is the report we received from Gus Mills:

Photo:  One of the Kgalagadi cheetahs with her cubs.

“Because of the large ranges of Kgalagadi cheetahs it is extremely helpful to be able to track our radio-collared animals from the air.  On Saturday 31st January, Andre van Niekerk a new Bateleurs pilot from Upington, kindly gave up his time to do a tracking flight in his Robinson 44 helicopter.  It was a very hot day and even with the helicopter door off, and at 2,000 feet above ground, the air was hot!  However, between 09h30 and 11h00 we covered most of the southern area of the park and managed to locate six of our collared cats – something that would have taken us at least two days to do from the ground, and with no guarantee that we would have found all of them. The only disappointment was that we did not find one of our females with a large cub up near Mata Mata.  I have subsequently heard that she is in the area so it seems that there may be a problem with her collar. Hopefully, as it is a new collar, it has simply drifted slightly off frequency.

The most interesting observation was to find two males deep inside the territory of two other males.  This is most unusual. We also located the resident males about 12 km from them. We have spent the last two days following these males and although they have started to move back to their own territory, they are still inside that of the original two.  Fortunately these territories are large, several hundred square kilometres, so the two rival groups have not met up.  If they did there would be trouble!  The question is why?  At the moment we are at a loss to understand this, but we will try to monitor the situation. Unfortunately we have had to leave them today because we need to go out tomorrow to check up on one of the females we located, to see if she has cubs.

Normally we expect to find all the animals, but not having found the female near Mata Mata, whose collar may be malfunctioning, led to our failing to find our most wide-ranging female. We spent  more time than usual searching for the Mata Mata cheetah, and so did not have enough time to locate the other wide-ranging female. Nevertheless the mission was a great success and is hugely appreciated.”

Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking


Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Location: Kgalagadi, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

Barry de Groot volunteered to fly this mission for Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project (and the one for the Kgalagadi Raptors, our next story, over the same weekend in late August this year).  This is the brief report by Gus Mills:

“On Monday 25 August the fourth Bateleurs Kgalagadi Cheetah Project radio tracking flight took place. This time our pilot was Barry de Groot who had flown his Cessna 172 all the way from Pietermaritzburg to help us. This trip was combined with another Bateleur mission, that of counting raptors in the Northern Cape with Abrie Maritz from the Zurich Kalahari Raptor project. Abrie has prepared a detailed report on the raptors mission, pointing out some of the serious logistic problems that were faced.

From the cheetah project point of view the flight was an unqualified success and we once again managed to track all 8 of our radio collared cheetahs (2 males and 6 females) in three hours. Although we were only able to get visuals on two of them, we were able to do so on the most important one, the female Thelma and her one year old cub, Louise. They stick to the dune areas nearly all the time and are the most elusive of our radio collared animals, so we were particularly pleased to see that the cub was still alive and with her mother.

The second most important female on whom we had hoped to get a visual was Maple. However, in spite of several low passes over the area from which the signal was strongest we failed to see her.  She is an old female and one who we have not seen since she lost her two six month old cubs to starvation in April this year. Our follow up observation on the ground confirmed our fears that she was dead. We found the badly chewed up collar and some bones in the vicinity, but are unable to be certain of the cause of her death. A sad but important observation.

As always we are indebted to The Bateleurs for their skills and much valued support for our project.  We hope very much that the logistic problems of getting fuel in drums to Twee Rivieren can be overcome as these flights are like gold to us.”

Third Monitoring Mission for Kgalagadi Cheetah Project


Mission: Third of our Monitoring Missions for Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Date: 13 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Location: Kgalagadi, Northern Cape
Pilot: Jay van Deventer

Bateleurs Director and pilot, Jay van Deventer, leaped at the chance to fly the third of our monitoring missions in 2008 for Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project.  The photograph above shows Gus on the left with Jay on the right, and below is Jay’s delighted report following a delightful adventure:

Cats in the Kalahari, by Jay van Deventer

“It was Edgar Allen Poe who observed that one should ‘be careful what you wish for, lest it come true’. I reflected on these words whilst nursing an overheating motor from level with the red Kalahari dunes though punchy tight little midday thermals back up to our search altitude of around 4000′ agl. On top we had a 20kt northerly and ‘on the deck’ the wind was gusting around 5kts variable. I had been climbing and descending through the somewhat busy air for almost five hours and the concentration required to conduct the seemingly endless low speed orbits at near dune height, in sometimes nasty shear, had been taking its toll. This is where Allen Poe comes in:  I was getting tired but there was no doubt I was having fun.

cheetah_project13062008A dream mission with a dodgy airstrip

The flight I am describing was a ‘dream mission’ for me, flying low over a game reserve using a radio tracking system (attached to my beautiful Lambada with ziplocks and duct tape) which virtually guaranteed cheetah sightings – and doing it in one of Africa’s most beautiful wilderness areas.  What’s not to like?  OK, there’s the six hour commute over some pretty remote areas just to get the aircraft there, the wind shear, and the massive area to cover, engine temperatures, and the dodgy pan as a landing strip …    Doesn’t that sound irresistible? It certainly did to me, and once again flying for The Bateleurs was an incredibly memorable experience. 

The mission involved assisting Gus Mills (ex SAN Parks, now a private researcher) to locate his collared cheetah. It has been said that one finds the warmest people down the roughest roads. That is certainly true of Gus and his delightful wife Margie. They were more than generous.  Indeed, after only knowing us for one day, during which they fed and housed us, they gave us the keys to their home and their car and left!  How many times in a lifetime will someone trust you with their two biggest assets after knowing you for just 24 hours?

I had planned two days for the cheetah search.  As it happened the aerial tracking was very successful and by the end of day one Gus was freshly equipped with the GPS locations of all his cats.  I had a day in hand and since I had spent almost 12 hours flying in two days, I was happy to have an off day for some game viewing.  The passion and diligence this couple apply to their research efforts is impressive. Gus had all the necessary dots on his map and he was clearly torn between his desire to go out into the bush for a few days to study them and his perceived obligation to entertain us, so giving us their house and car seemed a reasonable compromise to them.  As I said, an extraordinarily generous and trusting couple.  Nicci and I had a super relaxed day of game driving and after a very comfortable night we drove ourselves to the airfield in Margie’s 4*4 for an early departure.  The keys?  We left those in the car as instructed.  Isn’t it fantastic that places like this still exist?

By the time we were ‘wheels up’ we had been in the Kalahari for only two full days, we had seen literally more than a dozen cheetah from a mix of ground and air, we had followed a leopard for some close-up night time shots, we had watched lions mating in their leisurely way and had delighted in the antics of gemsbok, springbok, ostriches, bat-eared foxes, grey-backed jackals and much more.  Leaving aside The Bateleurs angle, it was an exceptional trip to the bush.  Sometimes I choose the dirty or dull missions for The Bateleurs and then the free fuel seems reasonable. But what with the free accommodation and the quality of the whole experience, I wil not in good conscience be able to claim for the fuel burned on this one.  In fact it feels as if I should be paying someone. Thank you to Margie, Nora and Gus for a truly memorable trip.”

cheetah_project2_13062008The Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Tracking Flight, by Gus Mills

And here is a short report from Gus Mills, the researcher in charge of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project:

“Friday the thirteenth of June might have been unlucky for the superstitious, but not for the pilots of The Bateleurs and the researchers of The Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation’s Kgalagadi Cheetah Project. The day before Jay van Deventer had kindly flown from Gauteng to Twee Rivieren in his nifty little motorised glider. Until then the week had been characterised by strong winds, but by Thursday they had died down and Friday was an ideal day for flying. We currently have eight radio-collared cheetah and it is a tall order keeping track of all of them. After fitting the antennae to the wheel struts of his Lambada, Jay and I took off at 10h00.  By 14h00 we had located all eight individuals and managed to get visuals on half of them. Because they range so widely it is virtually impossible to locate all of them from the ground in a week.

Once again we are indebted to Tthe Bateleurs for their much appreciated support for our project and we look forward to future flights. Each of these flights is invaluable for this important cheetah conservation project.”

Tracking Cheetah in the Kgalagadi


Mission: Cheetah Tracking at the Kgalagadi
Date: 10 January 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills and the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project

Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Pilot: Willie Snyman

Bateleur pilot, Willie Snyman (left) and Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project, with Willie’s helicopter in the background.

Tracking the elusive cheetahs in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, by Gus Mills

“The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Cheetah Project is aimed at identifying the ecological role, behavioural adaptations, demographic parameters, conservation status and threats to the cheetah in the southern Kgalagadi ecosystem.

An important aspect of this study is to understand the movement patterns of the cheetahs. To this end a number of cheetah have been fitted with radio collars. Although we expected the cheetah to range widely in this arid system, we did not expect them to move quite as extensively as they do. The females appear to be especially wide-ranging,  covering areas well in excess of 1 500 km². So even with radio collars we can usually only detect a signal from 5 – 10 km from the ground.
The solution, therefore, is to get into the air from where the line-of-site transmitters can be picked up from 30km or more, and from where it is possible to cover large areas much more quickly than plodding through the dunes in a vehicle. For this reason we have turned to The Bateleurs for help and are most grateful for the positive way in which this difficult request has been approached. It is difficult, not only because the Kalahari is far away from flight centres, but also because this is a request for frequent help, not a one-off situation.”

cheetahs2_jan08Two of the elusive cheetah on a sand dune in the Kgalagadi

“On Thursday 10th January 2008 we did our first Bateleur flight, with local farmer Willie Snyman as the volunteer pilot, in his wonderful Robinson 44 helicopter. We were particularly interested in locating two females which we have not seen for some time – Thelma who was last seen on 01 October 2007 and who then had two small cubs in a den, and D’Urbyl, a female who was collared on 1 November. Despite flying for two hours over the areas where we last saw these two females we unfortunately were not able to pick up a signal. However, we did locate a single male, Harken, and John and Allen, a two-male coalition, so the flight was well worthwhile.

We look forward to many more flights with Willie and other pilots, and I am sure that sooner or later our luck will change and we will find the missing females. One thing is certain, we have a far better chance of doing so from the air than from the ground.”