Tag Archives: Northern Cape

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.”

Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project


Mission: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project

Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

This is the African White-backed Vulture

We have included here some extracts from the detailed account by Abri Maritz of the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project, describing the mission to survey raptors in the Kgalagadi flown by Barry de Groot.

“At 15h20 on the Sunday afternoon of the 24th of August 2008 the blue and white Cessna 172, registration number ZU-AFP, with veteran Springbok pilot Barry de Groot at the controls, touched down on the tarmac runway of the Upington airport. Barry had flown solo from the lush green of Kwazulu Natal to the tawny brown of the semi-desert Kalahari to provide assistance from The Bateleurs to the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KGNP).

Our objectives were to find and plot, as much as possible, the active vulture and eagle nests in the KGNP and in inaccessible areas of the Kalahari region, for future inclusion into the national vulture ringing and wing-tagging program.

The target species were: Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius), African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus), Tawny Eagle (Aguila rapax), Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) and Black-chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus).

The survey was conducted, mostly, along stretches of the following rivers:  the Molopo River, the Southern Nosob River, the Auob River, the Kuruman River – and the adjacent dune veld.  We also surveyed the inaccessible high ridge and kloofs of the Korana and Langberg ranges, and checked on real and potential breeding sites in the Scheurweberg and Kameelpoort ranges. For security reasons the location of the nests as plotted with a GPS will not be published.

We were all a little sad when the survey was all over. We will miss the vast open dune veldt, dotted with salt pans, the snake-like windings of the fossilised rivers, and the raptors flying past.  But most of all we will miss the hours spent in friendship. Thanks to The Bateleurs for their contribution, input and the opportunity to expand our knowledge, especially pilot Barry de Groot who contributed his time, aeroplane and flying skills.”

Working for Wetlands- Kamiesberg, Northern Cape


Mission: Finding areas of Erosion in the Wetlands of Kamiesberg
Date: 19 July 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Kamiesberg, Northern Cape
Pilot: Harold Bloch

Report by Harold Bloch
Report on the Kamiesberg by Winston Coe

The Kamiesberg flight was the sixth and final mission in 2008 for Working for Wetlands.  The mission was flown by Bateleurs pilot Harold Bloch of Cape Town, and this is the short report he sent us after the flight:

Report by Harold Bloch

“We had a great flight on Saturday 19th July, startng at 06h30 on a cold and misty morning. The team was made up of Nancy Job, a Wetland Specialist, Winston Coe, the Provincial Co-ordinator for Working for Wetlands, Graham Smith who is a fellow Bateleurs pilot, and myself.

We took off and flew to Garies/Kammieskroon/Leliefontein in Namaqualand, where we started our low level survey.

Nancy was particularly eager to find areas of erosions in the wetlands. Often this starts next to roads where the necessary drainage had been under-engineered.  Farmers grow their crops [mainly sheep fodder] in the wetland areas and in so doing have drained the wetlands. However, the area is in pristine condition and it was very exciting to see the area after the rains with springs issuing from every granite outcrop. The amount of water was truly amazing. Nancy was delighted and felt she had enough material to get started.  The repairs will be done by the community with the consent of the farmer. The Dept of Public Works supervises the repairs using local community workers and in so doing provides jobs for local people.

The flight to Kammieskroon was over thick low level fog.  But miraculously it cleared in the survey area and stayed that way while we worked. The return flight was again over thick fog.  A coastal survey had been requested but this was impossible due to the fog.

Something else of interest was the destructive operations of potato farmers along the west coast.  They use centre pivots and farm a plantation for 3-4 years, after which the ground becomes infected by a potato blight which they treat by letting the ground lie fallow for 10 years. They then create another centre pivot plantation next to the first one, and this pattern continues so that an area may have 5 -10 fallow centre pivot plantations and only one being actively farmed.  Apparently this plays havoc with the aquifers in the area. The huge amount of destruction to the fynbos was really sad to see in this marginal area.”

kamiesberg2_19072008Report on the Kamiesberg by Winston Coe

“The Kamiesberg Local Municipality is custodian of the Kamiesberg centre of endemism – a distinctive and unique bioregion located in the high-lying region of the uplands, an area just north of the town of Garies. This area constitutes a key priority for conservation by virtue of its remarkable biodiversity and high levels of endemism – plants and invertebrates are found here that occur nowhere else in the world.

The flight to Garies left from Stellenbosch airfield at 07h00 in favourable weather, although low clouds covered the landscape.  We were treated soon after take-off to the full moon setting on one side and the sun rising on the other.  A small amount of snow remained on the Winterhoek mountains.  We traveled in the direction of Piketberg, over the Riebeeck Kasteel mountains and north along the Olifants River, which had recently been in flood, and the Knersvlakte plains, before reaching Garies at the base of the Kamiesberg Uplands. From there on our flight remained within the upper reaches of the two montane catchments (F30A and F50A).

The flight was extremely valuable in providing an overview of the wetlands of the Kamiesberg Uplands and definitely helped confirm the location of the handful of largest remaining intact wetland systems.  Unfortunately it also very starkly brought to light the extent of wetland loss.  Previously it was thought that there had been a loss of 30% of the wetland area.  It now appears that the loss of the original extent of granite renosterveld valley bottom wetlands in the Kamiesberg Uplands is more likely to be around 70% or more.  Two areas of intact wetland abutted by cultivation were identified for further investigation.  A third site was photographed, where a known headcut occurs, and it is expected that ground surveys will locate sites for intervention.

The considerable experience of our Bateleurs pilot and navigator ensured an extremely efficient flight and that we were well-placed to thoroughly investigate the area.  Further, both were experienced at placing the aircraft for the perfect photo, and we are lucky to have Harold’s photographs as proof of this.  Our flight lasted approximately four hours.  We returned just after 11h00, grateful to have been in the hands of two very capable pilots and for the opportunity which The Bateleurs continues to offer to the Working for Wetlands programme.”

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.”