The Peace Parks Foundation and the TFCAs

Dec 11, 2009

Mission: Assist with the acquisition of still and video photography for the making of a TV series on the Peace Parks
Date: September, October and December 2009
Requesting organisation: Peace Parks Foundation
Location: Six trans-frontier conservation areas bordering on South Africa
Pilot: Craig McKenzie

In September 2009 we were asked by the Peace Parks Foundation to assist with the acquisition of still and video photography for the making of a TV series on the Peace Parks.  This project will cover six trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCAs) bordering on South Africa and it is being undertaken in conjunction with the Natural History Unit Africa (NHU).  Bateleurs pilot Craig McKenzie flew the first of these missions for us, over the Kgalagadi, in September.  Since then Nico Louw has flown a second mission over Ais Ais and the Richtersveld, in October, and we anticipate flying a further two missions for the Peace Parks Foundation in 2010.

Report from the beneficiary, by Cameron Ewart-Smith of the Homebrew film crew

Homebrew Films, a small production company based in Cape Town, was recently commissioned to produce a six-part TV series on transfrontier parks in southern Africa, but as with all things in conservation, on a very restricted budget.  To truly appreciate the scope and expanse of the Peace Parks Foundation’s Trans-frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) situated on South Africa’s borders with neighbouring countries, one needs to take to the air – and this we were able to do – thanks entirely to The Bateleurs. “I knew that we would have to shoot from the air to convey the full expanse of the parks,” says Werner Hefer, the series director, “but how?”  Enter The Bateleurs – who kindly agreed to sponsor flights in order to get the aerial footage required.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park from the Air
I have spent many days exploring the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park but have never seen it from the air. That is, until recently when, as one of Homebrew’s film crew working on a documentary series on transfrontier conservation areas, we took to the air – thanks to The Bateleurs. We took off from the excellent tar strip at Twee Rivieren in the late afternoon and turned out left, making a pass over the camp before heading north at roughly 500 feet along the Aoub River.
The weather was hot and the thermals coming off the semi-desert surroundings made filming nearly impossible so we decided to climb to roughly 1000 feet where we found some smoother air. At that height the Kgalagadi stretches out before you like an immense undulating carpet. Parallel ripples of sand dunes march away towards the centre of Botswana.
Life in the environment tends to congregate in the river courses so the scenery is slightly more varied in these narrow bands, with tall Acacias throwing long shadows in the late afternoon light. Unfortunately from a thousand feet up wildlife is hard to spot, especially in a fixed wing aircraft.  But that was not the purpose of the flight. We wanted to give our television viewers an idea of the massive expanse of the place – the sheer enormity of the park – and this we achieved. Without aerial footage it is impossible to convey to the audience just how large some of these parks really are.

Flying with us was the park’s hospitality manager, Drupal Erasmus, who had hitched a ride to check on a fire that was burning in the north of the park.  He had been concerned that this fire was spreading south towards one or two of the wilderness camps but luckily we found this was not the case.  Even when we reached the northern extent of our flight plan we still had not seen any fire.  There were some smoke tendrils rising way to the north, but the park managers were comfortable that their camps were not at risk from that direction.
After 45 minutes in a northerly direction we banked right, heading east, following one of the connecting roads between the Aoub and Nossob Rivers before turning south, to follow the course of the Nossob home. Conditions over this river were better and we captured some awesome shots as we ambled south, as slowly as the aircraft could fly.  We ‘sauntered’ into the airspace over Twee Rivieren and after one last pass over the camp we landed once more. After securing the aircraft for the night we headed back to camp where already the braai fires were giving off a mouth watering aroma of grilled meat in the sultry evening conditions.
!Ais !Ais Richtersveld Park

“I know the !Ais-!Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier park well,” says Cameron Ewart-Smith, editor of Wild magazine and the presenter for the series on TFCAs, “but taking to the air was a whole new way of looking at this incredible park. It is an experience that I will never forget.”

“!Ais-!Ais Richtersveld in particular from the air is nothing like you would imagine. Following the Orange River to its confluence with the Fish we headed north across a desert landscape that is as beautiful as it is confusing. Following the river is quite a challenge as the entire landscape is convoluted into an array of spectacular canyons and mountains. After one or two meanders of our own we finally located the Fish River Canyon itself and flew through at rim height. This you simply have to include on your to-do-before-I-die list.” In total, The Bateleurs will fly the Homebrew team over five parks – the Kgalagadi,  !Ais-!Ais Richtersveld,   Mapungubwe,  Greater Limpopo and Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Parks.

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The pilot’s story of the mission, by Nico Louw

The Bateleurs sponsored a flight over the Fish River Canyon and Richtersveld, to assist with aerial filming for a TV documentary being produced by the Peace Parks Foundation.

The original flight request was for one hour, but the actual flight of 2½ hours turned out to be too short.

The flight was done from Windhoek, direct to Sendelingsdrif, where customs and immigration on a Saturday proved to be quite an undertaking.  After hour fees had to be paid and a lot of patience was necessary.

Flying over these spectacular parks was a privilege.  I have walked the Fish River Canyon, and I have done many flights (including one really low level Piper flight) over the Canyon in the past, but it is still an incredible sight to see – and this is the first time I have flown over these parks with the door of the aircraft removed.

The low level flights, with four people in the C182, was heavy on fuel and the return flight had to be flown, partially, on mo-gas.  The entire day’s flying was more than eight hours and the return flight included Luderitz for a fuel stop.

As always, it was a privilege to fly for The Bateleurs.

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