Leopard Tracking in the Baviaanskloof

Jun 28, 2011

MISSION  11 of  2011

Name of Mission: Leopard Tracking in the Baviaanskloof       
Date of Mission: 28th June 2011
Aircraft used: Cessna 170       
Pilot: Reid Wardle     
Beneficiary: Jeannine McManus ‚Äď Landmark Foundation


Objective of the Flight

To download GPS data from leopards for research on their population densities and dynamics

Beneficiary’s story of the mission             By Jeannine McManus

On 28th June Bateleurs pilot Reid Wardle and I set off from Port Elizabeth airport headed for the Baviaanskloof to locate and download the data from two female leopards in the area. The weather was perfect and we located the first female on the eastern section easily. The VHF signal was strong and we downloaded the data within minutes of locating her. She is nestled in the heart of the Baviaanskloof Protected Area and faces no conflict with people. With plenty of food and ideal leopard habitat, her range is the smallest to date, merely 4 500 ha.

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Following this success we flew further west looking for the other female who occupies mostly farm land, using some 15 000 ha of terrain. An intermittent signal helped us find her at the north-western extremity of her range. The terrain was inhospitable and retrieving this data from the ground would have been impossible ‚Äď but with help from an excellent pilot and his Cessna 170, we made it look easy! The downloading device displayed the message ‚ÄúAll data are saved‚ÄĚ and we flew back to Port Elizabeth with a feeling of great accomplishment.

A very special thank you to a great pilot, Reid Wardle and his classic 1952 Cessna 170. Thank you also to The Bateleurs for an outstanding initiative and the opportunity to fly with you, and all their help with arranging this mission. Thanks are due to the East Cape Parks Board for their support and for allowing the mission.

The mission accomplished within 1.5hrs ‚Äď a fantastic experience.

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Pilot’s story of the mission              By Reid Wardle

I pre-flighted my 1952 Cessna 170B, ZS-PVR, on Tuesday 28 June 2011 for a planned mission to the Baviaanskloof area to electronically track collared leopards and, once located, to download data stored in the collars which will report on their movements since January. I prepared and filed a flight plan from my home base (Rexfield) to Port Elizabeth, and also used information gathered from a previous mission with Jeannine McManus to prepare a plan for the actual mission.

The next morning saw me airborne at 07h00 for flight level 065 routing to Port Elizabeth. After 20 minutes of flying I calculated a head wind of some 30 knots which was slowing progress somewhat, and requested that Cape Town East allow me to descend to Flight Level 045. This layer had 0 wind and speeded things up a lot.

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I landed at Port Elizabeth, taxied to the bowsers at Sheltam Aviation at about 08h45 and was promptly set upon by an official from the Civil Aviation Authority asking to perform a ramp of my aircraft. This yielded no untoward discoveries but it did delay the start of our mission by about two hours!

With Jeannine and her tracking equipment on board we became airborne and routed directly to the Baviaanskloof area to begin our search for two female leopard Рthe priority was a recently captured and collared female in the Southern parts of the Kloof. One hour into the flight we picked up a signal, and having identified the particular gorge she was in, we orbited this position until all one thousand items of data had been captured by the on-board equipment.

We then gave ourselves one more hour to locate the second female whose electronic collar was nearing the end of its useful life and after some careful positional flying, we jubilantly picked up a signal. It proved a little more tricky to maintain contact with this particular leopard, but approximately 20 minutes from the time of location we had all 890 points of data saved onto the onboard computer.

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Feeling very satisfied with the successful nature of our time in the air we once again set course for Port Elizabeth via the river mouth near Jeffrey’s Bay. We landed at Port Elizabeth after a flight duration of 2,97 hours and after parking carefully so as not to attract the attention of the CAA official to our externally mounted aerial, we disembarked and disassembled the equipment.

Our custom after a mission is for Jeannine and her colleagues to entertain me to lunch, but due to the delays caused by the CAA official, I had to forgo this treat.  After refuelling I was once again airborne at 15h00, bound for Rexfield and home, with an ETA of 16h30.

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The return flight was uneventful and I landed and had the beautiful C170 B packed away and refuelled by 17h00 that afternoon.

What an absolute joy it was to be part of something so important and which contributes so much towards the preservation of the leopard population in particular, and our natural heritage in general. It is an honour! Thank you. The Bateleurs!

I wish also to express my thanks to Sheltam Aviation and in particular to Jeremy and his most helpful team who, despite having to cope with a tedious CAA inspection, were so generous with their time and help in order to expedite our mission on the day.

Flight times were as follows:

Rexfield to Port Elizabeth 1,74 hours 41 litres of fuel 0 oil R  596.40
Port Elizabeth – Mission – Port Elizabeth 2,97 hours 81 litres fuel 0 oil R1178.26
Port Elizabeth РRexfield 1,68 hours 46 litres fuel 0 oil R  669.13

This represents a fuel use of 26,29 litres per hour! Excellent!

 

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