Kgalagadi Cheetah Tracking – 1 of 2011

May 7, 2011

MISSION  07 of  2011

Name of Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Tracking – 1 of 2011    
Date of Mission: 7 May 2011
Aircraft used: Robbie R44 (Helicopter)       
Pilot: Peter Hohne     
Beneficiary: Gus Mills

Objective of the Flight

To track collared cheetahs in the Kgalagadi Park

Beneficiary’s report by             Gus Mills

For some time we had been unable to locate four of our radio collared cheetahs from the ground, so we were most grateful to Joan Cameron and Peter Hohne for arranging a flight in Peter’s R44 on Saturday 7 May.

We took off from Twee Rivieren just after 08h00 and flew up the Nossob Riverbed as far as Kransbrak, then across the Central Dunes to the Auob Riverbed at Gemsbokplein, and across the Auob into the Western Dunes. In spite of covering a large area in which the animals are known to roam I did not pick up a signal from any of the four missing collars. Our time was running out but we decided to fly a little bit further north before turning round and heading back to Twee Rivieren. After a few minutes I was very relieved to finally pick up a signal from one of the collars. It was from the female Gertie.

We homed in on the signal but could not get a visual on her. I was concerned that she might be dead so we decided to land and follow the signal from the ground. After a short distance we found her spoor and were excited to see what we thought was cub spoor as well. Then coming over a dune we glimpsed her and two little cubs. Not wanting to disturb them further we then flew back to Twee Rivieren.

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Margie and I went out on Monday and soon found Gertie with three small cubs of about three months old. She was feeding on a steenbok. We followed them in the vehicle for the next three days. At first the cubs were a little afraid, but assured by their mother who is used to us, they soon settled down. On the final day Gertie caught another steenbok.

What of the other missing animals? I believe that batteries from one of the collars may have run down, but the other two collars should be transmitting and we will have to search wider for these elusive animals. In spite of this, finding the one female was very important as with the small cubs she will not move far over the next few months and we will be able to make regular observations of their progress.

Once again, many thanks to The Bateleurs for helping us.

Pilot’s story of the mission      By Peter Hohne

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In early May we were contacted by The Bateleurs who were desperately looking for an aircraft to assist Gus Mills to track cheetah in the Kgalagadi Park.  It did not take long for us to volunteer our Robinson R44 helicopter for our first Bateleurs mission.

We departed from Kimberley on Friday afternoon the 6th May for Twee Rivieren, with a stopover at Kuruman to refuel. After a flying time of two and a half hours we were met at the Twee Rivieren landing strip by Gus Mills. Flying over the Kalahari was spectacular, with not a soul to be seen and the vegetation looking healthy from the recent rains.

On the Saturday morning we removed the co-pilot door to give Gus some working space for his handheld tracking antenna and set off north along the Nossob River, flying at 1500ft above ground and doing the odd 360 orbit to pick up a signal from the collars. After flying about 60km north with no signal from the missing cheetah, we turned west and crossed over Auob River to the western side of the park where we picked up a signal. We got a fix and landed on the dunes where we tracked on foot for a short while. Gus managed to spot the female cheetah, whoc had cubs with her, for a brief moment.

In the afternoon, Gus and his wife Margie took us out in their Land Cruiser where we spent the afternoon watching a group of three male cheetahs stalking prey, scent marking trees and playing on the sand dunes until the sun had set. It was quite an experience.

We had the most wonderful stay with Gus and Margie at Twee Rivieren and thank them very much for their hospitality. On Sunday morning we departed for Kimberley with a stopover at Tswalu Reserve for lunch. Thsi was a weekend to be remembered!

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