Third Monitoring Mission for Kgalagadi Cheetah Project

Jun 13, 2008

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.

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A 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.”

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The 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.”

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