The Bateleurs have had visits this year from two extraordinary human beings – both conservationists and men extremely concerned with the state of our earth.
In March/April Michael McBride spent four weeks meeting with, and imparting his knowledge of flying and sense of wonderment and fun to, as many Bateleurs and friends as possible. We had a simply wonderful time. Shortly after Michael returned to Alaska, Bittu Sahgal, editor of India’s fantastic conservation manazine, Sanctuary Asia, flew in to spend a scant eight days with us.
The Bateleurs, partnered by Africa Geographic, will follow in Bittu’s footsteps by running a similar photographic competition to that of Sanctuary Asia, on climate change – only ours will be from an aerial perspective. Bittu gave a talk on climate change to approximately 350 people in Johannesburg, to “launch” the concept of our photographic competition, for which the strategy and details must still be finalised.
Michael McBride (left) with Jay van Deventer
Mike and Jay are a Bateleurs Patron and a Bateleurs Director and Pilot, respectively. They are pictured here in Jay’s Lambada (a motorised glider).
The Bateleurs is extremely fortunate to be supported by two Patrons – Dr Ian Player, who needs no introduction, and Michael McBride. These exceptional individuals shine as beacons of conservation in South Africa and Alaska, particularly, and throughout the rest of the world. In April this year we were delighted to welcome to South Africa (thanks to the sponsorship by Lufthansa of his return air ticket) our Alaskan patron, Michael McBride.
During his visit to our country we tried to share Michael with as many Bateleurs pilots and friends as possible. Those of you who were lucky enough to have met him and/or heard him speak will know what an extraordinary man he is. What he might not have told you, though, is that he holds a commercial pilot’s licence, a skipper’s licence, has built and runs (together with his wife Diane) one of the top ten wilderness lodges in America, is an ornithologist, an archaeologist, geologist, palaeontologist, has been a Board member of the Smithsonian Institute for two terms, founded and sponsored the Alaskan Coastal Study NGO, was an expedition leader for trips to the Antarctic, the Arctic, the Aleutians and the Falkland Islands, and has recently joined the Board of the Wild Foundation in the USA.
As a member of the Advisory Board of LightHawk, Michael was key in helping me understand the need for an environmental air force in this country. He told me about the missions that he flew for LightHawk, introduced me to the then Executive Director of that organisation – Will Parish – and encouraged me to draw on their experience to help me found The Bateleurs in South Africa.
In mid-April The Bateleurs took the opportunity to organise a “retreat” in the bush in the Lowveld for some of our Bateleurs Directors, and some of our Bateleurs pilots and friends, so that more of us could share the experience of being with and learning from the wonderful resource that is Michael McBride. The photo above shows the people who were able to share in this event.
Michael and Kachemak Bay, Alaska
A photograph of the dock at Kachemak Bay, Alaska, and the amphibian aircraft (which bears a Bateleurs decal!) belonging to Michael McBride.
Michael has been an environmental and conservation activist all his life, and has won some amazing battles. Sadly, he lost the one closest to his heart – losing Chennik Lodge in the midst of brown bear habitat, because he opposed the hunting of human-habituated brown bears in the area. Michael, together with his staunch and amazingly talented wife, Diane, live in, own and have run Kachemak Bay Lodge for forty years. His website address is www.alaska_wildernesslodge.com
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.”
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:
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.”