Tag Archives: Kwazulu Natal

The Surfing Hippo


Mission: The Surfing Hippo
Date: 31 May to 30 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Paul Dutton, Ecologist
Location: Dolphin Coast from Ballito to the Mdhloti River, Kwazulu Natal
Pilot: Paul Dutton

The photo shows South Africa’s surfing hippo, frolicking in the waves at Ballito.

Bateleurs pilot Paul Dutton flew on five different days to track the progress of a hippo wandering along the Dolphin Coast from Ballito all the way to the Mdhloti River.  This is his account of what the hippo came to mean to him, and to many South Africans, before meeting an untimely end:

“The Dolphin Coast (the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal) whose beaches were once recipient of Blue Flag status and a holiday mecca for visitors, has become one of South Africa’s first victims of our planet’s irreversible climate change. Tourism entrepreneurs offering holiday venues “on the beach front” found their installations either teetering over the edge of the beach or, in some cases, sharing the tide with dolphins. Broken sewerage systems spewed raw effluent onto the swimming beaches, black flags replaced blue, and the and visitors stayed away.

That was March 2007 when the autumn equinox, a cyclone in the Mozambique channel, and a  strong on-shore wind came together to wreak havoc in a matter of hours. Mdloti to Ballito and was wiped off the tourist map. I was also a victim on the day when a tsunami-sized wave swept me and my friend, Meg Jordan, over a wall and onto the beach where we were left bleeding and somewhat broken – requiring the help of a local Titan, Wayne Labuschagne, who helped us out seconds before the arrival of another wave.

One year later a lone hippopotamus, seemingly a messenger of hope, suddenly appeared in the shore break off Ballito. Once empty car parks filled to capacity.  It seemed as though a holiday mood had returned to the depressed Dolphin Coast. Years before another hippo named Huberta walked and swam from St Lucia to the Eastern Cape over a period of two and a half years, capturing the imagination of the nation and getting more media coverage than the spectre of an approaching world war.  Sadly her journey was cut short when two ignorant farmers shot her and she now stands mute as an exhibit in the King William’s Town museum.

The latest wanderer became another flagship icon, symbolizing relief from the xenophobia, crime, and economic woes that dominated our media. At last we could send out some good news from our troubled country. The Bateleurs – Flying for the Environment in Africa once again responded to my call for help by supporting several flights in ZS-DLI Spirit of the Wilderness to  track the peregrinations of our hippo as it wandered the beaches at night, seeking pasture and sanctuary in various estuaries of the North Coast.  

Naming the hippo Nkululeko (Freedom) won Ms Maryann Grafetsberger a prize of an hour’s flight in Spirit of the Wilderness, helping track the hippo by its distinctive spoor above the high water left from the previous evening’s wandering.

Finally Nkululeko found the Mdhloti River with its fresh water and abundant pasture – but its sojourn here was short.  The custodians of KZN’s wildlife – without attempting to capture and translocate the animal – had it shot at night as it grazed the banks of the river.  A local man had been found dead with head wounds for which Nkululeko was accused as the perpetrator.

Nkululeko was unceremoniously dumped in a landfill and no-one bothered even to determine the sex of the creature, and we still do not have the details of  the autopsy that was supposedly done on the dead man.

Having been a game ranger in KZN I do not for one moment believe that Nkululeko was responsible for the man’s death. The killing of this icon by the wild life authority, eZemvelo, speaks reams as to how little thought is given to caring for our country’s natural wild treasures.”

The Beach Blues

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.

East Coast Survey with Michael McBride


Mission: East Coast Survey with Michael McBride
Date: 30 March 2008
Requesting organisation: The Bateleurs and Michael McBride
Location: KwaZulu Natal
Pilot: Paul Dutton

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.”


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.”

Final Mission for the Oceanographic Research Institute


Mission: Aerial Survey of the KwaZulu-Natal Coast to Determine the Total Shore Angling Effort
Date: 22 February 2008
Requesting organisation: Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI)
Location: KwaZulu Natal
Pilot: Steve McCurrach

From the left:  Steve McCurrach, Bateleur Director and pilot,
with Bruce Mann of the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI).

In early February Steve McCurrach flew the final monitoring mission for the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) – for now, that is.  Steve has done sterling work in co-ordinating all the flights in 2007 and 2008 for ORI, working with a dedicated group of volunteer pilots in KwaZulu Natal.  The Bateleurs would like to thank this particular group of KZN pilots, who are mentioned by name in the report from ORI, below.  Their commitment to the ORI monitoring missions, over an extended period of time, is very much appreciated.

ori2_feb08Final report and thanks from Bruce Mann of ORI

The little dots on the beach close to the surf are anglers on the shore at Amatikulu
– they are very visible in a bigger photo!

The Bateleurs assist in an aerial survey of the KwaZulu-Natal coast to determine the total shore angling effort
By Bruce Mann, Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban

“A randomised aerial survey of the KZN coast was undertaken between March 2007 and February 2008. A total of 36 flights were conducted with 18 flights along the north coast (Virginia to Kosi Bay) and south coast (Virginia to Port St Johns) respectively. Twenty-four weekday flights were conducted in the KZN Wildlife aircraft (Cessna 182), while 12 weekend flights were conducted by The Bateleurs, using a variety of aircraft including Cessna 172s, a Rainbow Cheetah and even an RV8! Ground-truthing revealed that the aerial counts of shore anglers had an accuracy of about 91%. As expected, angler effort was significantly higher over weekends and on good weather days. Seasonality of shore angling effort showed that the greatest effort occurred during the winter months (June to September) coinciding with the seasonal availability of shad (Pomatomus saltatrix) along the KZN coast. Interestingly, angling effort declined substantially during October and November coinciding with the closed season for this important angling species. This result demonstrates the effectiveness of such regulations in reducing the total fishing effort.

More developed stretches of the KZN coast with higher population densities and greater angler access (e.g. Durban Metro) had the highest angling effort. Results from the aerial survey were significantly lower than the results obtained by KZN Wildlife shore patrols over the same time period, emphasising the importance of aerial surveys in calculating total angler effort in fisheries where effort is dispersed over a large area.”

ori3_feb08Only in Africa – and Steve thought he was doing a marine survey!

The photo of cows making themselves very
at home on a landing strip does, in fact,
arise from one of the ORI survey flights.

To continue with Bruce’s report:
“The total annual angler effort along the KZN coast was calculated at 843 702 angler days per year which represents a 43% decline from a similar estimate made in 1994-96. This decline in shore angling effort is largely attributed to increased crime levels (anglers are scared to go fishing along parts of the coast), as well as to the impact of the beach vehicle ban reducing anglers ability to access more remote areas of the coast. These factors have also resulted in a change in the pattern of shore fishing which is now focused at beach access points rather than being more evenly distributed along the coast. Based on the results of this study, important recommendations have been made to try and improve current management of the KZN shore fishery.”