Tag Archives: Jay van Deventer

Marine mammals abundance study


Objective of the flight: 

Three of twelve missions were flown to assess the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas for inshore dolphin conservation using aerial surveys to determine distribution, abundance and habitat use.

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Jay van Deventer


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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.”

Michael McBride pays SA a visit


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.


mike_and_bataleurs_052008In 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.


Michael and Kachemak Bay, Alaska

A photograph of the dock at Kachemak Bay, Alaska, and the amphibian aircraft (which bears a Bateleurs decal!) belonging to Michael McBride.
mike_alaske_052008The 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.

mike_and_paul_052008Anyone 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.”


mike_and_paul2_052008Paul and Mike flying over the proposed N2 route along the Wild coast

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: 

‘Dear Andrew

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.”