Leopard Tracking 01 of 2010 for the Landmark Foundation

Jul 28, 2010

MISSION  25  of  2010

Name of Mission: Leopard Tracking (01 of 2010) for the Landmark Foundation   
Date of Mission: 26th, 27th and 28th July 2010
Beneficiary: Jeannine McManus of the Landmark Foundation
Aircraft used: Kitfox
Pilot: Ettiene Oosthuizen

Objective of the Flight
To download GPS data from six collared leopards in the Baviaanskloof region in the Eastern Cape.

Beneficiary’s story of the mission: By  Jeannine McManus

We arrived at Zandvlakte in the Baviaanskloof on the 25th July, ready for an early departure on the morning of the 26th to begin our survey. Our objective was to download GPS data from collared leopards for a population dynamics study. It was freezing when we got to the plane at dawn on the 26th, with a layer of ice on the windscreen and wings of the plane. We refuelled the plane, mounted the yagi antenna on the strut of the plane closest to the passenger window, to allow me to plug in the VHF and GPS devices to scan for leopards using the antenna. When all the pre-flight checks had been done and the ice had been washed off the plane we set off to Cockscomb in a 20km direct line from Zandvlakte in the Baviaanskloof.

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The area has only access road (in very bad condition) and is comprised of extremely mountainous terrain. On arrival at our destination we immediately began searching for leopards in the area. On the ground it usually takes 3 – 4 days on foot to find the leopards.

We approached the Groot River and immediately the beeps from the VHF began pulsing through the headphones. We downloaded data from two leopards within the first 45 minutes of the flight!  Great success.

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We pushed back toward the west over the beautiful Baviaanskloof mountains and luck was with us   We quickly located and downloaded data from another leopard!  Three leopards in one hour – this must be a world record!  We continued to fly over the inhospitable and striking mountains thinking that it is no wonder the leopards have survived here for so long and wondering if anyone has ever been into the heart of these mountains.

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We located 5 of 6 leopards in the first two hours of this mission. Not just any leopards, leopards in the Baviaanskloof:  some males roam over 60,000 ha in this mountainous area, and it has taken me months to download data on some of these cats on the ground, due to the rugged terrain. We had a remarkable trip filled with excitement, beauty and success. But somehow one of the leopards eluded us and we had to fly again, over the next two days, trying to locate her in very tough terrain. Data from this female was last downloaded in September 2009 so I hope she is ok.

A very special thank you to a great pilot, Ettiene Oosthuizen and his bright yellow Kitfox. Ettiene is an exceptional pilot and his experience in tracking wildlife over the years contributed greatly to the success of this mission.  Thank you to The Bateleurs for an outstanding initiative and the opportunity to fly with you, and for all their efforts in helping to arrange this mission.

The flights were very rewarding and we had great success in locating 5 of 6 leopards in very difficult mountainous terrain.

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