Mission: Counting Nile Crocodiles
Requesting organisation: University of KwaZulu-Natal
Location: Pongolapoort Dam and St Lucia Estuary
Pilot: Donavan Bailey and Donovan Barton-Hobbs
Our last newsletter reported on the first of our flights in 2009 to count crocodiles in KwaZulu-Natal. We present below the report from the second of these flights, written by researcher Garreth Champion reporting on the mission flown by pilot Donavan Bailey. This is followed by a brief account of the third crocodile survey written by pilot Donovan Barton-Hobbs who flew this mission for researcher Xander Combrink.
Pongolapoort crocodile count by passenger Garreth Champion
“Currently an MSc study on the population dynamics of the Pongolapoort Nile Crocodile population is being undertaken by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus. The flight was the first aerial survey for the Pongolapoort project and is hopefully the first of a number of flights needed to estimate the total population of Nile Crocodiles in Pongolapoort Dam. It aided in providing a rough estimate of the number of crocodiles in the dam and their distribution during August 2009.
Airborne over the Pongolapoort Dam
This is a relatively large expanse of water and the aerial survey is the most practical way of getting a total population estimate. A total of 134 crocodiles were spotted during the flight, with the majority being found along a 7km stretch from the inlet of the Pongola River to in front of Inkwazi Game Lodge. As this was the first aerial survey some of the techniques for recording numbers and distribution need to be perfected. The weather conditions were ideal, giving excellent views. A great deal was learned and the objectives for this initial flight were successfully met.
These results will be used in the collection of various data, including seasonal population estimates of the entire Pongolapoort Dam, and seasonal crocodile distribution and density around the dam. Comparison of aerial survey data with the monthly population estimates of day and night (spotlight) counts of the inlet section (mentioned above), accomplished by boat, will be possible. There will also be comparison of any shifts in crocodile distribution/densities around the dam.
Many thanks to our pilot, Donovan Bailey, for his enthusiastic help, and also to The Bateleurs for making the flight possible.”
St Lucia crocodile count by pilot Donovan Barton-Hobbs
“The purpose of the mission was to do a count of crocodiles within the St Lucia estuary, starting at the closed- off mouth, right up to the northern-most reaches of the estuary. At this stage I am not sure of the total number of crocodiles counted, as this is still subject to the counting of the groups of crocodiles which were photographed. Of great concern to Xander Combrink was the very low level of the estuarine system, with the salinity apparently four times higher than sea water. This is having a very deleterious effect on the crocodiles who are not able to get access fresh water. The weather was very pleasant and totally suitable for the mission.”