Tag Archives: Limpopo

Red-Billed Oxpeckers from Limpopo to Mokala National Park

Objective of the flight:

The objective of the flight was to relocate Red-billed Oxpeckers from Limpopo to Mokala National Park in the Northern Cape. The Operation Oxpecker project was requested to catch Red-billed Oxpeckers at the Doortjie and Berg-en-Dalen farms near Swartwater in Limpopo as the farmer felt he had too many on his property and that the birds were keeping wounds on his cattle open.

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Assessment of Rehabilitation – Letaba Project


Mission: Assessment of Results of Rehabilitation Programme
Date: 20 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Environmental Offsets
Location: Letaba, Limpopo
Pilot: Corrie de Bruyn

One of our new pilot members in 2008, Corrie de Bruyn, flew this mission – his first flight for The Bateleurs – to assist Dave Turner of Environmental Offsets to assess the progress of rehabilitation of a nursery and other sites in Letaba.  This is the brief report from Dave Turner:

“On the 21 August 2008 I went on a flight over our Letaba project’s nursery and rehabilitation sites with Mr Corrie de Bruyn of Hoedspruit. The flight was organised through The Bateleurs, a group of civilian pilots who volunteer their time and aircrafts in the name of environmental conservation and scientific research.

An application was made to the Johannesburg office of The Bateleurs, who put me in touch with Corrie de Bruyn, an ex-SAAF officer based in Hoedspruit.  We flew in his Kitfox, a small two-seater with a cruising speed of about 150km/h. The flight took about 2½ hours and I managed to get some nice pictures, some of which I’ve attached. I’ve had to reduce them somewhat for the sake of e-mailing and so much of the detail has been lost unfortunately. However, I can burn a CD of all the original photos for you if you wish. Please let me know.

The photos illustrate very nicely the increased basal cover inside the sites compared to the relatively bare ground outside of them. As well as this, you can also see where most of the tree seedlings have been planted.

I may contact The Bateleurs again after some rain has fallen as the difference in grass cover after some summer growth will be more apparent.”

Counting the Tuli Elephants


Mission: Counting the Tuli Elephants
Date: 1 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Mashatu Game Reserve
Location: Mashatu Game Reserve, Central Limpopo River Valley
Pilot: Avroy Shlain

Participating in the total aerial count of the elephants within the Central Limpopo River Valley is becoming something of a regular annual event for The Bateleurs and one of our Director-pilots, Avroy Shlain.  Presented below is the report of the 2008 count, prepared by Jeanetta Selier, Resident Biologist at Mashatu Game Reserve.

Counting the Tuli Elephants, by Jeanetta Selier

“Elephants are perceived to be a keystone species that determine the structure and composition of their habitats. This contention has in turn led to claims that elephants at high numbers pose a threat to biodiversity in the conservation areas in which they occur.  However, little is known on how elephant populations are limited and how co-existence between elephants and trees was achieved in the past. In order to understand elephant and tree dynamics, a reliable understanding of what environmental and social factors influence elephant movements and the occupancy of different habitats is needed.

The Central Limpopo River Valley is a diverse area covering three different countries namely Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe and forms part of the proposed Shashe-Limpopo Trans Frontier Conservation Area. The area has an amazing history with elephants nearly disappearing from the system in the 1900’s, as a result of excessive hunting and the ivory trade, and only returning to the area in large numbers after the establishment of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in the late 1960’s. Early estimates of the population in the 1970’s indicated 1200 elephants in the region.

Changes observed in the structure and composition of the habitat in the area as a result of the increased number of elephants let to the initiation of the Central Limpopo River Valley elephant research project in 1999.  This is an ongoing research program.

A total aerial count of the Tuli elephants was conducted on the 2nd and 3rd of August 2008. Due to the political situation in Zimbabwe during the time, only the Tuli Circle was counted and not the section along the Limpopo River within Zimbabwe. This is a pity as a group of approximately 150 –200 elephants roam through this area and form an integral part of the Tuli elephant population.

Over the two-day period the distribution and numbers of elephants in the Central Limpopo Valley were determined by dividing the region into three counting blocks based on the possibility of crossover of elephants between blocks during the survey. Flying at a speed of around 90 knots and at an altitude of 500 feet, 1 km wide adjacent belt transects were searched for elephants. Whenever an individual or group was encountered a GPS location was taken and the numbers counted.

A total of 1352 elephants were counted in the entire study area. This number is comparable to previous counts conducted within the study area since 2000 and within the margins of error for counting such a large number of elephants from the air. As with the previous counts, the highest number of elephants was observed within the Botswana section of the study area and mainly concentrated westwards along the Tuli Block from the Motloutse River towards Baines Drift (700 elephants) and within the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (524 elephants). A total of 95 elephants were counted within the boundaries of Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa. Yet again, no elephants were observed within the entire Tuli Circle (Zimbabwe) during the count. A total of five counts have been conducted so far since 2000 and during only two of these counts were any elephants observed in the approximately 45000ha area in Zimbabwe (63 in 2000 and 3 in 2007). No elephants were counted around Letsibogo Dam in the Bobirwa sub district within Botswana.

Data from the five aerial counts indicates that the population within the Central Limpopo Valley, at least for the winter months, appears to be stable. However, elephants move extensively throughout the study area depending on the resource availability at different times of the year. The distribution of the elephant population is mainly determined by the presence of humans and human activity, fences and large river systems. At least four distinct core areas can be identified for the mid to late winter period within the study areas, suggesting the possibility of different clans or bond groups.

Data obtained from these counts combined with ongoing fieldwork will assist in a clearer understanding of the distribution and movements of the elephants and the social and environmental factors that might influence it and so get one step closer to solving the contentious issue of elephant management in Southern Africa.

There were many people and organisations that assisted in ensuring the success of this survey. Naledi hosted the survey teams;  staff in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana, SANParks in South Africa and the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority assisted in obtaining the necessary permits;  Pete le Roux of Mashatu Game Reserve arranged the aviation fuel, while Dennis Summers and his team were always ready to assist with the refuelling of the planes. Thulani and the firemen at Limpopo Valley Airfield ensured safe flying and takeoff and landings.  The Bateleurs, Wings4Wildlife, SANParks and the Northern Tuli Game Farmers Association provided aeroplanes, pilots and avgas. The navigators and counters donated their time and expertise. All of them helped together to realise a better understanding of the elephant numbers and distribution within the study area. A special word of thanks to Raymond Steyn, Alan Parnass and Bateleurs pilot Avroy Shlain for their superb flying.”

tuli_elephants2_01082008Some of the Tuli survey subjects

Working for Wetands – Bushbuckridge


Mission: Identify Wetland Habitats Suitable for Rehabilitation
Date: 28 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Bushbuckridge, Limpopo
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk

One of our newest pilot members, Hill van Schalkwyk, volunteered to fly Craig Cowden and Anton Bothma to survey wetland habitat associated with the Sand River near Bushbuckridge in Limpopo.  The photograph above shows the survey team, comprising (from the left):  Hill van Schalkwyk – Bateleurs pilot, Craig Cowden – Area Manager for LRI, and Anton Bothma – the Project Implementor of the Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation project. The flight took place from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport at the end of June, and this is the enthusiastic report from Hill:

“Flying my first mission for The Bateleurs was one of my flying highlights!  It is possible that I over-planned the whole mission as Craig Cowden, the Area Manager, was calm and collected and knew exactly what needed to be done. He was familiar with the terrain and knew the area well from the air.  We were accompanied by Anton Bothma who is responsible for the implementation of wetland rehabilitation in that area. He too knew the area well, and all their knowledge made my task of flying so much easier. We met at Kruger Mpumalanga airport which is an hour’s flight from my home base in Polokwane/Pietersburg. The day started slightly later than expected due to the poor visibility in the early morning and the heavy smog all the way to Nelspruit. When I was planning the operation I realised that the weather would have the final say, but in the end it turned out to be a brilliant flying day.

We departed Kruger Mpumalanga at 099h15 and arrived at our “site” – the Save the Sand project – 20 minutes later. All the points that I had carefully marked on my GPS were spotted in a flash by the two professionals.  They discussed issues that did not make much sense to me, but obviously knew exactly what they were looking for. The stable weather made it possible to fly low and slow – very safely!

The area near Bushbuckridge is clearly seriously damaged as a result of erosion and it was heartwarming for an outsider to learn about the interventions being planned to save the wetlands.  Unfortunately, as per anecdotes related by my passengers, some of the structures put in place to save the wetlands occasionally end up as walls in houses, or even as chicken pens!”

wetlands_bushbuckridge2_28062008The escarpment near Mariepskop

“For me one of the highlights of the day came when we had to fly to the top of Mariepskop where the old radar station was built in the 1950s. It was launched to establish a chain of radar stations along the border of the then Transvaal in order to protect the Witwatersrand area from possible aerial attack.  On the eastern side of the Drakensberg escarpment, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is the Mariepskop complex, a mountain enclave and centre of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. Mariepskop is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg and from 1,945m above sea level, on a clear day, you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo.

We returned by flying down a ravine back to the Lowveld and then straight on to Kruger Mpumalanga International.

Thanks a lot for the opportunity!”


Save the Sand surveyed by Craig Cowden

wetlands_bushbuckridge3_28062008This photo illustrates several large erosion gullies in the centre of the picture.

And here are extracts from the report of this same flight, from Craig Cowden:

“The flight was carried out from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport by Hill van Schalkwyk.  This was Hill’s first flight for The Bateleurs, but he was more than capable of adjusting to the demanding requirements of the Working for Wetlands project team’s requests to “turn right – NOW”.

Nine wetland sites were identified with the project area, of which seven were prioritised as having ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ potential for rehabilitation.  The majority of the problems associated with the wetlands related to headcut and gully erosion.  Unfortunately, the wetelands within the project area have been severely impacted upon by over-grazing and erosion, with the majority of the valleys being seen as ‘lost causes’.  Due to the small size of the catchment the team was able also to fly over the Mariepskop Nature Reserve, identified as an area with potential for rehabilitation, in addition to the X32A quaternary catchment.

As a whole the flight was highly effective in reducing the otherwise difficult and lengthy process of identifying problems by vehicle or on foot, as well as eliminating the need t identify and contact landowners (to request permission to enter onto their land) within the project areas.”

The sixth and final flight for Working for Wetlands in 2008 will be presented in our next Newsletter.