MISSION 21 of 2012
Name of Mission: Tracks of Giants 03 of 2012
Date of Mission: 27 August 2012
Aircraft used: Foxbat A22
Pilot: Brett Hill
Beneficiary: The Tracks of Giants Project
Background to the “Tracks of Giants” project:
The TRACKS OF GIANTS (TRACKS) project is an initiative of the Wilderness Foundation and Wilderness Leadership School, a highly respected and much awarded environmental non-profit organisation of more than 50 years standing in southern Africa, which seeks to partner with key government and other organisations in each of the countries that will be traversed. In 2012 The Bateleurs flew three separate flight for the project.
The objective of the flights
To transport key personnel (the logistics manager, the expedition leader, and the film-maker) from Windhoek Airport to Purros, and from Opuwo to Cape Town airport.
Beneficiary report by the Tracks of Giants project
“Tracks of Giants, the epic conservation trek of more than 5,000 kilometres through six southern African countries has come to an end. But the impact of the expedition will have a lasting effect for years to come.
Starting on the Namibian coastline on May 01, 2012, the journey saw a team of conservationists travel across southern Africa through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa where the two team leaders, Ian McCallum and Ian Michler, met with conservation ‘giants’ in each area. The “two Ians” undertook the entire journey without the use of mechanical transportation. They walked, cycled and kayaked in the historical tracks of migrating elephants in order to highlight the need for corridor conservation, transfrontier parks, and promote more understanding about the coexistence of humans with wild animals. They were supported by a backup team, and joined by various sponsors and environmentalists along the way.
Now that the expedition component, which has been absolutely vital for the gathering of relevant and up-to-date field data, is done, the most significant challenge is about to begin,” says specialist wilderness guide, photojournalist and naturalist Ian Michler. “In the months to come we will be processing and laying out all the conservation, wildlife management, community and ecotourism issues we have encountered along the route. We are hoping the final products (a book and documentary film) will be ready in time for the next World Wilderness Congress in October, 2013.”
Medical doctor, psychiatrist, writer and conservationist, Ian McCallum, hopes that the expedition has laid the groundwork for building the trust of the local people in each region. “If we do not get the trust of the people on the ground, conservation is doomed. They have been disempowered over the years by governments and government departments, but we have to start listening to what they have to say.”
At the close of the expedition, the Tracks of Giants team handed over a GPS-linked elephant collar which they `had carried with them throughout the journey. The collar acted as a constant reminder of the purpose of the journey, as well as a valuable part of the backup team’s equipment. It was handed over to Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and will become part of the journey’s legacy when it is attached to one of the elephants that EWB tracks in the Chobe region of Botswana.
“The collar is a symbol of what we’ve learned from monitoring elephants and how that knowledge has become our path, leading us towards positive conservation efforts,” says Kelly Landen of EWB. Landen and Dr Mike Chase, also from EWB, guided the Tracks of Giants team through Chobe and the Linyanti Floodplain in Botswana.
The twenty week journey culminated on the dunes at Cape Vidal on KwaZulu Natal’s northern coastline on Monday, September 03. Wilderness Foundation CEO, Andrew Muir joined the team for the final week of the journey walking along the shores of St Lucia – a Natural World Heritage Site. They were met by founder of the Wilderness Foundation and Wilderness Leadership School and world-renown conservationist, Dr Ian Player.
“The journey may have come to an end, but the full impact of Tracks of Giants is still to come,” says Muir. “The Wilderness Foundation is extremely grateful to all the environmental organisations, sponsors and supporters that made this journey possible. We are looking forward to seeing the results of the foundation that has been laid.”
Pilot report by Brett Hill
“My passenger and I decided to fly to Mozambique on Sunday 26th August, when King Shaka airport was less likely to be busy. We took off from the Ballito airstrip in light rain and headed for King Shaka where the tower instructed us to orbit a couple of times to accommodate commercial ‘heavies’ on final. King Shaka airport was highly efficient and we were soon on our way heading up the coast pushed by a friendly tailwind. We crossed the border at Ponto do Ouro and then headed inland directly towards Maputo.
At Maputo airport we filed a flight plan for Ponto do Ouro and refuelled with AVGAS. In no time we were cleared for take-off and set our sights for Ponto, now heading into the teeth of the wind. There was a lot of dust in the air from the salt flats and Inhaca and Portuguese Islands were hidden from view. It was alarming to witness human encroachment into the Maputo Elephant Reserve, especially towards the mangrove coast. In spite of this the view of rolling grasslands, pod mahogany forests, lily clad wetlands and turtle-nesting pristine beaches were breath-taking. The airstrip at Ponto do Ouro with its cross runways provided an option for landing directly into a fierce south easterly wind. Luckily they had large tie down blocks so we faced the plane into the wind and tied it down for the night. This was to be our base for the next couple of days.
Monday morning dawned, cloudless and calm. The passenger door was removed to facilitate aerial photography by cameraman Nick Chevalier of the southern route covered by the Tracks of Giants team before crossing into South Africa. Our flight started south of Inhaca Island and turned south along the shore, capturing magnificent images of the pristine shoreline and bountiful coral reefs. Countless Humpback and Minke whales swam and broached in the crystal azure water. Dolphins were aplenty. As we moved further to the south and after leaving the Maputo Elephant Reserve, we noticed increasingly unregulated developments with some buildings tottering on the edge of an eroding marine shore.Later we met up with the Tracks of Giants team who had started their expedition four months earlier, on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, and who had walked, cycled or paddled 5,270 kms through Southern Africa (www.facebook.com/tracksofgiants). On this stretch of the Mozambican coast they were just a few days short of reaching the end of their expedition, at Lake St Lucia, South Africa. We flew very low and slow to get photos of them on the desolate beach.
Paul Dutton and Kenton Kirkwood met the team as they were passing through the Maputo Elephant Reserve. They reminisced and shared some of the experiences of the trip for a while and then set off for another three hour walk to Ponto do Ouro.
By Wednesday we were ready to return home after three days of challenging but satisfying flying on another mission for The Bateleurs. The flight to Maputo for departure procedures was uneventful and all we expected to do was re-fuel and be on our way but “Eish there’s no fuel. BP’s tanker has broken down.” We headed back to the tower and had to do some smart talking because we had already cleared customs and should theoretically not be in Mozambique.
After going to town to purchase motor fuel we estimated that if we flew a direct route back to King Shaka we would make it just before sundown. We were rewarded for the holdup by passing directly over the Ndumo Game Reserve and then following the snaking Pongolo River to the Jozini Dam and thence over the parched lands of north eastern KZN, thirsting for rain.
We picked up the KZN coast at the Tugela River and, favoured by the north east wind on our tail, landed at King Shaka where we cleared customs. The shuttle back and forth from the apron, a distance of 500 metres, cost an outrageous R260. By the time we reached our base at Ballito the sun had set over the spreading fields of sugar cane. The Foxbat had once again proved its capability of accommodating Bateleurs missions requiring aerial photography by the easy removal of the passenger side door.
This was another interesting mission completed, which produced some outstanding imagery of what was achieved by the Tracks of Giants team’s trek from the west coast to the east coast. Finally, we wish to thank the Kirkwood family who opened their holiday home at Malongane to all those involved in this Bateleurs mission.
It was a pleasure having naturalist Michael Bartlett as my informative passenger on this mission. Special mention must also be made of dedicated Mozambican marine biologist Miguel Gonçalves, representing African Peace Parks, who ably directed the Tracks of Giants mission.