Tag Archives: Paul Dutton

Dugong survey Bazaruto National Park, Mozambique

Objective of the flight:

The flights objectives include the observation and recording of Dugongs and their calves in order to understand habitat use and population viability.  In addition, the flights will also enable mapping of fishing activities and threats to Dugongs. The flights will form part of a 12 month assessment of Dugong distribution and fishing pressure that will enable the EWT to suggest further areas of Special Protection where high Dugong abundance and fishing threats overlap. The flights will also augment marine patrols, and direct patrol boats onto observed threats. The flight will also record Manta rays, dolphins, sharks, and whales and share this data with the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

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Sand Mining in the Mvoti Estuary

Objective of the flight

To conduct a photographic mission to assess the impact of sand mining on the Mvoti River

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iMfolozi Surveillance Mission


Mission: iMfolozi Surveillance Mission
Date: 28 November 2008
Requesting organisation: iMfolozi Game Reserve
Location: iMfolozi Game Reserve, Kwazulu Natal
Pilot: Jose Lima (flying a Robbie 44 helicopter) and Paul Dutton (in his Piper Super Cub, Spirit of the Wilderness)

The Bateleurs responded to a call for assistance to fly the perimeter fence of the iMfolozi Game Reserve, to check out any poaching incursions whilst most, if not all, of its patrol staff were absent from their various out-posts attending a year-end function at the Mpilo camp.  Bateleurs members Jose Lima (flying a Robbie 44 helicopter) and Paul Dutton (in his Piper Super Cub, Spirit of the Wilderness) flew the mission.  While this was one of many Bateleurs flights for Paul, it was the inaugural Bateleurs flight for Jose.
“Having the helicopter with its ability to hover and land in tight places added great efficiency to the patrol as evidenced by Jose locating a stationary vehicle and people inside the reserve, immediately next to the game fence, in an area in which White Rhino are often encountered.  Jose noted what looked like a blood-stained tarpaulin enclosing the back of a truck, and the scene had all the appearance of a poaching incident.  We both returned to the airstrip from where Jose picked up ranger Sanmarie and three armed staff and flew back to investigate the vehicle.  It turned out that the truck and its occupants were temporary workers clearing the invasive alien Chromalinaena plant while the “blood” was in fact the result of red herbicide spillage!  Although we did not locate any poachers entering the Park on the day, it did indicate that having unattended casual staff free to move around the reserve evinced a serious lapse in the reserve’s security system.  

Our flights made us realise how small and vulnerable iMfolozi is, with only a token security fence to protect a treasure far more valuable than all the bullion in the USA’s Fort Knox!  Understandably,  KZN conservation, and the iMfolozi and Hlhluwe Reserves in particular, does not have sufficient financial resources to beef up its security system to staunch the poaching of the two species of Rhino.  Perhaps Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife could emulate the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, to which American multimillionaire Greg Carr has committed USD 30 million for rehabilitation.  It may well be possible for Ezemvelo to exploit the precarious situation of its Rhino to attract the support of an American philanthropist who may be looking for ways to spend accumulated wealth.  Human health gets its fair share of this source of wealth – why not the natural world too?

Ranger Sanmarie’s handling of the mission’s logistics, and her rapid response with her armed team to our report of a possible poaching incident was exemplary.”

Comparative Count of Dugongs


Mission: Comparative Count of Dugongs
Date: 4 September 2008
Requesting organisation:
Paul Dutton
Location: Mozambique’s Bazaruto National Park
Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen

Surveying Bazaruto National Park’s Elusive Mermaids by Paul Dutton
Chris Rattray in ZSCTW, flying in seach of Dugong

The Dugong Survey Team:  from the left Dr Almeida Guissamulo, Paul Dutton, Etienne Oosthuizen and Chris Rattray

The Bateleurs supported a count of Mozambique’s Dugongs in February this year, when the exercise yielded alarming reports of decreasing numbers of these gentle sea creatures.  In September a comparative count was conducted, and this is the short report  prepared by Paul Dutton, a Bateleurs pilot and ecologist.  The flying for this mission was performed by volunteer pilots Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen.

Surveying Bazaruto National Park’s Elusive Mermaids  :  3-7 September 2008, by Paul Dutton

“This was my sixth aerial survey, since 1990, of Dugong that occur in the sheltered marine grass environment of the Mozambique’s Bazaruto National Park.  I had just graduated with an MSc degree in coastal management and as luck would have it I found Dr John Hanks sitting at the Africa Desk of WWF (International) in Glande, Switzerland and he offered me a contract to formulate a Master Plan for the Bazaruto Archipelago. This opened up an opportunity for me to test the veracity of my MSc dissertation “Traditional Fisheries and Conservation Ethics” whilst gathering a plethora of data required for formulating the Master Plan. However, it was not long after I had pitched my tent on the northern shore of the main island of Bazaruto that my attention was drawn to the presence of the mythical Sirenia or Dugongs that grazed the sea grass meadows throughout the archipelago. To promote the conservation of an ecosystem one needs a flagship species – like the tiger that symbolizes India’s jungle, or the white rhino that assured iMfolozi Game Reserve’s future. The Dugong, because of its rarity and important ecological niche as a bulk grazer of marine grass, fitted into this role.



Chris Rattray in ZSCTW, flying in seach of Dugong

Dr Almeida Guissamulo, a young graduate of the Mondlane University in Mozambique, and cetacean specialist Dr Vic Cockcroft, accompanied the first aerial survey in 1990 when Dugong were of mixed sexual and age aggregations and were widespread throughout the Archipelago.  An estimate of between 150 and 180 animals was based upon a 25% survey sample.

Since then population estimates have  followed a roller coaster ride of discrepancies in terms of numbers and distribution. It became apparent that small sample numbers were being extrapolated in relation to our original study when in fact the introduction of gill nets for shark harvesting had caused  numerous “accidental” drownings in previously occupied habitats.

Counting a small number of widely distributed animals that can submerge for up to 8 minutes played a major part in the variance in numbers. For example, the survey carried out in February this year accounted for less than 20 animals – all but one occurring close to the islands of Benguerra, Magaruque and miniscule Bangue. Perfect weather on one of the days of the September survey, with the sea clean and mirror calm, resulted in an additional 45 being found close to Santa Carolina.  This elevates the population estimate to at least 56 animals, including 6 sub adults and 5 juveniles in 33 localities.

On this occasion flight transects 2 km apart and covering 130 km starting from the Save River Estuary and moving southwards through the national park were flown over a period of 5 days.  This produced as near as possible a total figure rather than a statistically generated estimate.  A total distance of  3781 km over a period 30 hours was flown by the two aircraft, providing an indication of the intensity of the current survey.

A total of at least 420 Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphins,and 6 Humpback whales were encountered on the survey transects.

We were fortunate to have Dr Almeida Guissamulo design and guide this recent survey which I believe is a definitive estimate of the current status of the Dugong.  It will enable initiation of the  long term management of the Dugong whose current distribution still places them in the precarious situation of being the proverbial “eggs in just two disparate baskets”.

Our beloved squadron leader Nora Kreher and board members of The Bateleurs – Flying for the Environment in Africa once again showed their commitment to caring for our beleaguered natural environment by funding and fielding two of its proficient member pilots, Chris Rattray and Etienne Oosthuizen, who flew their C182 and Kitfox7 aircraft with utmost precision over Bazaruto National Park’s azure clear water. Sunday Times photographer Darryl Hammond worked hard to capture images of Dugong underwater on known feeding grounds. On one occasion Darryl and I had two Dugongs within a few meters of our dive boat but when we slipped overboard in our scuba gear all we saw was  blue water – and no sign of the mythical Mermaid! 

The Dugong Trust contributed to the team’s lodgings at the Bazaruto Lodge where managing director Louis Erasmus accommodated the team at a generously reduced rate. Other tourist entrepreneurs namely Gonfishen and the Islands of  Benguerra, Indigo Bay and Santa Carolina all helped in various ways to make this survey a pleasant and successful mission. I took a back seat on this, probably my last air survey of Dugong after 18 years.”

Formation Flight in Support of Xolobeni Sands


Mission: Formation Flight in Support of Xolobeni Sands
Date: 20 July 2008
Requesting organisation: Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC)
Location: Xolobei Sands area on the Wild Coast
Pilots: Barry de Groot, Kim Robertson, Paul Dutton, Bill Yeo and William O’Driscoll

Scratching with the chickens or soaring with the eagles, by John Clarke
Participants in the Beach Walk/March


It was Bateleurs pilot Barry de Groot who offered to co-ordinate our Formation Flight over the Xolobei Sands area on the Wild Coast, in solidarity with the community and the NGO Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) who were protesting against the proposed mining of the area.  The flight comprised three Bateleurs aircraft with four Bateleurs pilots – Barry de Groot, Kim Robertson, Paul Dutton and Bill Yeo, plus a guest pilot who has since become a member – William O’Driscoll.  Here is Barry’s story of the flight.

“My reward for having to remove myself from a warm cosy bed at 05h00 on a Sunday morning was to witness a magnificent sunrise in front of my hangar, bathing my pristine aeroplane in a warm orange glow once the hangar doors were opened.

Our mission was to have four light aeroplanes fly in formation to show solidarity with walkers who were walking from the Wild Coast casino along the beach to the area known as the Red Sands. The purpose of the walk was to protest the proposed mining of these sand dunes of their mineral content by an Australian mining company.

The four aircraft are all based at different airfields so it was arranged that we would all rendevouz at Margate Airfield at 08h30.  The four pilots – Paul Dutton with another Bateleurs pilot, Bill Yeo, as his passenger, Kim Robertson, William O’Driscoll (a guest pilot on the day) and I all touched down at Margate within ten minutes of each other. We were very fortunate to have William, an experienced formation flier, with us on the day and he immediately set about briefing us on the finer points of formation flying, with emphasis on the safety aspect. So confident were we after the briefing that we even did a formation takeoff and set course for the Wild Coast casino.

Ten minutes after takeoff and about five kilometers south of the Casino we met up with the walkers along the beach, all 1000 plus of them. The enthusiasm for this noble cause was very gratifying to see from the air, and we were told that the numbers would swell even further as locals living in the area joined the ranks along the route.  We did several passes over the walkers in a diamond formation, with Paul in the lead in his bright yellow Piper Cub, and then returned to Margate to a very welcome hearty English breakfast.

At 11h30 we again took to the sky in formation, but this time Kim in his immaculate Cessna 182 took the lead role, with Paul bringing up the rear. The brief was to join with the walkers who by now would have reached the area to be mined, and then do several low passes over the group gathered at the estuary of the Mnyameni river. It was a wonderful sight to see such a large gathering of people on the beach with their banners.

After several passes we broke formation and each aeroplane flew back to its respective base, with the exception of ZU-AFP.  As a passenger in my plane on this second run I had John Clarke who is doing a story on the alleged poisoning of a gentleman who had been very vociferous in opposing the mining of the dunes. John wanted to fly over the homestead of the late Mr Scorpion which is situated about 15 kilometers inland from the coast, and take some video footage of his home along with the new grave in the front garden where he was buried by his family.

The return flight home to Pietermaritzburg via Margate for fuel was uneventful, but in the glorious sunshine flying south up the coast as far as Scottborough brought home to me once again how privileged I am to be able to fly a small aeroplane in Africa.”

formation_flight2_20072008Scratching with the chickens or soaring with the eagles, by John Clarke [John Clarke is a Social Worker with Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC)]

“Was it a ‘march’ or a ‘walk’?  We were trying to decide how to bill the unusual protest event that SWC’s supporters from the Ramsgate Conservancy on the KZN South Coast wanted to see:  a 7 km solidarity walk with AmaDiba Wild Coast residents, starting from the Wild Coast Sun Casino resort to the Mnyameni Estuary, which lies bang in the middle of the pristine coastal area targeted for heavy minerals mining by Australian mining company MRC Ltd.

On the one hand, we reasoned that since many of the South Coast residents would be older, retired and not quite up to toyi-toying, and that since it wasn’t going to be a formulaic ‘handing over of a memorandum to a government official’ type of event that the pro-mining faction had contrived to do in Pretoria six months earlier, it wasn’t strictly a ‘march’ of angry protesters.  But on the other hand we knew that Wild Coast residents, led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee set up to represent widespread local opposition to the mining, would be wanting to ‘march’ – even if Mr Jacinto Rocha, the Deputy DG of DME whom we had invited to officially receive our petition didn’t turn up.

“OK, let’s simply use both words, and tell supporters that they would ‘march’ with the left leg, and ‘walk’ with the right leg.”

The other issue was to make sure the media covered the event, so that the message got across to government, even if Mr Rocha didn’t arrive personally carry it back to the Minister.  “We can ask The Bateleurs to fly cameras overhead, and maybe 50/50 will cov er it”.   “ Great idea” everyone agreed.

In response to the flight request, Nora Kreher of The Bateleurs called me.  “Thanks John, I got your request.  But we have decided that The Bateleurs want to do something special.  Mining the Wild Coast can’t be allowed to happen.  We want to do a formation flight.  I’ll let you know how many pilots I can muster.”

Social workers are used to dealing with scarcity.  But contending with unexpected abundance poses another sort of challenge.

When the day arrived, instead of the normal constraint of trying to allocate limited seats for a whole ‘click’ of news photographers into a small plane, I had the opposite problem of filling three four seater Cessna’s on a beautiful Sunday Spring tide day, when all that the participants wanted to do was to walk along the beach with the crowd.  I managed to persuade ETV’s Durban bureau chief Dave Coles and his crew to join the squadron.  50/50’s Don Guy ‘reluctantly’ agreed to be embedded in the ‘air force’ instead of filming a worm’s eye view of the 7 km ’infantry’ march.  His assistants, Siphiwe and Sam the ‘klankman’ had to endure the river crossings, the salt spray off the rocks, and the festivity of amaMpondo beauties chanting “iMining iMpumelo. iMining iMpumelo”  (Mining won’t succeed. Mining won’t succeed) with vuvezelas blasting a clarion call to do-no-harm.

Abundance again manifested itself while I was still on the ground directing eager South Coast residents through the gates of the Wild Coast Sun to the parking lot.  After about half an hour of hastening vehicles through to avoid a traffic jam at the entrance, (the walk had to get going to take advantage of low spring tide so they could cross the estuaries) the chap on duty below came running breathlessly to tell us to divert cars to another parking lot because “the bottom parking lot is already full. Send cars to the upper parking lot.”

Some 500 South Coast residents had turned out in an astonishing display of solidarity with the Wild Coast residents to make sure the message got across.  After helping ETV get some quick footage of the masses commencing their Beach Walk/March, it was off to board the planes to witness the spectacle from the air.”

formation_flight3_20072008Participants in the Beach Walk/March

“Unsurprisingly, Bateleurs veteran Paul Dutton turned up with his two-seater Spirit of the Wilderness for good measure as well. There was no way he was going to miss this event.  I was pleased to have Barry de Groot as my pilot – again.  He had flown me and a media team over the area early last year in a howling gale, so I knew he wasn’t going to prang in the near perfect conditions, (the presence of other planes in close proximity notwithstanding), and that I could concentrate on getting the still shots, while Don Guy filmed the movie. 

Barry didn’t disappoint.  A very low level pass over the beach provided the chance to see even the facial expressions of the marchers below, showing me that they were ecstatic to have this civilian ‘airforce’ to bolster their morale and confidence. 

The effort by the pro-mining faction to counter the impact of the event by staging a political jamboree a month later, backfired badly.   Yes, they did manage to get Government there – no less a person than the Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica herself – but the obviously contrived and manipulated attempt to emboss the Xolobeni mining proposal with credibility left journalists even more sceptical.  As Fred Kockott, veteran Sunday Tribune journalist reported “It was the strangest of meetings, and a blatant demonstration of the buying power of government, the mining industry and politicians”.

And of course, they didn’t have The Bateleurs doing a formation flypast to welcome the Minister, and signal aerial support for the mining.

The Minister then made a crucial tactical mistake by claiming that the anti-mining lobby was simply the work of “rich whites”, led by Richard Spoor, who were dividing the community so that they could stop the mining and continue to enjoy pristine Wilderness areas, and arresting “progress in our community”.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee and their supporters, emboldened by the same banners and placards that had been made for the Beach Walk/March a month earlier, had turned up in significant numbers.  They were incensed at the Minister’s outrageous comments and insisted that she return for another consultation.  But they insisted it would be with directly affected local residents only, and without all the political razzmatazz.   To her credit, humbled by the courage and conviction of the ACC, she returned a month later to hear firsthand why people on the ground objected so strongly to the mining plans.

After hearing one complaint after the other, there was little the minister could say other than to apologise and plead for forgiveness at the manifest failure in the consultation process.
The following week the terse announcement came from DME.  “The Xolobeni Mining right will not be executed as planned on 31 October, pending the outcome of the appeal lodged by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of the Amadiba Crisis Committee”.

Most of those who participated in the fantastic Beach Walk/March two months earlier believe It was that event which signalled a decisive shift in the overall alignment of forces for, against and indifferent to the Wild Coast dune mining. 

The profound significance of The Bateleurs contribution to the Amadiba communities growing confidence only hit me a day after the historic formation flight.  I happened to drop in to visit my sister who lives in Durban.  Before I could tell her about my fantastic flight with The Bateleurs, she got in first to tell me about an inspirational quote that she had heard in a Sunday sermon, which happened to be around the same time as I was boarding Barry’s Cessna.  “Why keep scratching in the ground with the chickens, when you can soar to new heights with the eagles”.

Surely it is only a matter of time before the Aussie mining company abandons their ambition to peck away at the Wild Coast coastal dunes and starts ‘repacking for Perth’.  With The Bateleurs ever on hand to soar overhead in tight formation to support local residents in their protests, MRC will have no chance of mining the Wild Coast.”