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The Bateleurs and Their Aircraft

Many prospective Bateleurs members often wonder, "I'd like to join, but I'm unsure if my aircraft would be suitable for Bateleurs' work." We believe that many don't even ask this question; they simply assume that their aircraft doesn't fit the mold of the typical bushy 4X4 STOL plane and consequently refrain from inquiring about participation. So what is a Bateleurs Aircraft?

Let's dispel any misconceptions by examining images captured during actual Bateleurs flights. Through this visual exploration, we'll discern the characteristics that define suitable and unsuitable aircraft types for our work. Following this, we'll embark on a series titled 'The Bateleurs and Their Aircraft,' gathering firsthand insights from our field members on how their aircraft have performed and why they are well-suited for our missions.

A common misconception among our users, conservationists, and environmentalists is the belief that any bush operation must involve the use of a helicopter. While we acknowledge the undeniable advantages of helicopters in their specific roles, the assumption held by many users is fundamentally flawed.

A prominent conservationist in KZN once shared with me, "There's not an elephant in KZN that hasn't had a negative encounter with helicopters." This statement underscores the stress experienced by wildlife during various management tasks involving helicopters, leading to elephants and other species becoming highly agitated and even darting away. The consequence is that elephants, for example, become extremely wary, retreating at the faintest sound of an approaching helicopter, even if it's miles away.

In the context of diverse wildlife management activities within a park, subjecting animals to such stress, including elephants, and disturbing park visitors with the noise of helicopters, is counterproductive. Activities such as telemetry tracking, fence assessments, wetland health evaluations, and ecological surveys can be effectively carried out without the need for helicopters. For instance, I've personally conducted operations orbiting around elephant herds in a quiet Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), seamlessly downloading collar data via Wifi. Such close proximity and data retrieval would be unthinkable if a helicopter were used.

Not only is the running cost of a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) potentially as low as R2k/Hr compared to an "economy" helicopter at R7k/Hr, but helicopters should be reserved exclusively for tasks where their unique capabilities are indispensable, such as animal darting. For all other operations, LSAs offer superior economics, significantly less disturbance, and enhanced task efficiency.

However, consider the scenario of relocating two large predators, like a coalition of mature lions or a pack of wild dogs. In such cases, neither helicopters nor LSAs are suitable, and the task necessitates a General Aviation (GA) cargo aircraft. Yet, the choice of the most suitable aircraft for the mission remains crucial. Similarly, when tasked with transporting time and temperature-sensitive rhino eggs (Oocytes) to an IVF lab urgently, as is currently happening in March, the optimal solution involves deploying the swiftest aircraft available, whether LSAs or GAs. Our priority is to provide users with the best service by utilizing fast aircraft, typically low-wing types with retractable gear.

Prospective members with retractable gear low-wing aircraft may mistakenly assume their aircraft is unsuitable for conservation work. However, in the example mentioned above, this type of aircraft would actually be the most suitable. Let's explore which aircraft types are effective for various tasks and under what circumstances, utilizing extended captions for the following images.


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