Mission Tally

Hyena tracking 1 a With Sam – 40 mins 10th August

Operating out of Tolo strip, with it's 300 meters, we had to pick up Sam, our Hyena tracker at Leshiba, as we wouldn't have gotten airborne off the shorter strip.
Sam had arrived with a 'Yagi' antenna, which he hoped to fit in the back seat with him.  No such luck, as the Yagi was too big.  However, he had a portable receiver which we would trial on that trip, no bigger than a walkie talkie.

In the event, we failed to pick up any signals, just static, so it in effect became an orientation flight for Sam.  Also, because we were unable to carry enough fuel out of Leshiba due to weight restrictions due to the altitude, we resolved to try out of Louis Trichardt next time, with more fuel, and another approach.

Hyena tracking 1 b with Marrianne – 2 hrs – with Yagi antenna, found collars but no Hyenas 27 August

This time we wanted to make a serious effort to find these Hyenas.  Hence we were flying from Louis Trichardt, so that we could take more fuel, enough for at least a two hour mission.  Marianne, a volunteer from France, was going to operate a smaller Yagi antenna, which we could fit into the back seat.  Because it was due to get hot, we woke at 4 am and headed off to the strip at 4.30, arriving around 6 am.  Ugh....!  (I hate  early starts).  We carried out some tests without the engine, then with the engine on, and we could hear the test antenna, even if Anne carried it 500 m away.  Same story once airborne.  No trouble hearing the collar transmissions, even at 1000 ft.  Greatly relieved, we set off to do the transect flying.  

Sadly, no Hyenas were in evidence, even after over an hour of flying backwards & forwards around the areas they were expected to be.  We did however, pick up a test collar that was placed outside at Lajuma research centre for the purpose, so we know the equipment was working.  Unfortunately, Brown Hyenas are nocturnal, and it is just possible that they had hunkered down for the day in a cave, naturally, impervious to radio waves!

So not an especially ringing result, but at least we showed that the equipment worked, and it was possible, in principle., detect collared animals.

Mission 2a : Animal count Moyo 17 August 

This mission required us to reposition at Moyo lodge, where we were met by Prof. Ian Ghaigher, who was our host for the next few days.  After an initial day of orientation, where we just fiddled with camera settings on the Gopro, field of view and frequency of photos taken etc, we made two flights the following day.  The first, an attempt at a total count on all the animals at Moyo, was carried out at about 300 ft AGL, with Ian in the back as observer.  It was decided that he was best placed, as he would have no trouble identifying the animals from the air.  (Sometimes they can look quite different from that aspect).  In the event, Ian managed to count most of the animals, but we couldn't see any of the Eland, which we knew were there.  This was most probably because they were hiding under trees.

As we are returning to Moyo for more work in future, we decided that next time we would fly lower, maybe 150 ft, to perhaps scare them out from underneath the trees.  Plus the lower altitude would double the resolution when examining the Gopro photos, (Gopro can take simultaneous video and photos), as we had found that, at 300 ft, there was not enough resolution to identify the various types of animals.

So, reasonably successful, but we can optimise the methodology further.

Mission 2b : Vegetation survey Moyo 17th August 

This was flown shortly after the animal count, and the plan was to carry out a vegetation survey of the Moyo reserve (1000 hectares), taking Gopro videos (with the camera mounted vertically downwards), along with photos every 5 seconds for identification of various species of trees and plants.  Anne was the observer this time, and the plan was that while the Gopro was silently recording the vegetation, Anne would be in the back, trying to photograph any large groups or herds.  Again though, it was now later in the day, and hence much warmer already so the animals were all under the trees.

Reasonably successful, but still waiting for Ian to have time to analyse the video and photos to give us a final verdict.

Mission 3 : Sigurwana aerial photography 22 August - 60 mins

Whilst not really a mission as such, it was mainly to thank Liesel for allowing us to stay at Tolo house and to use her strip.  The purpose was to take photos of Sigurwana lodge and the surrounding country, so that further development of the area could be taken for tourism and ecological purposes.  We took simultaneous video and photos through the Gopro and Anne also took photos from her handheld camera at specific points that Liesel had asked for.  These points had been entered in to my GPS during a game drive we had taken there previously.

Successful, though we didn't manage to identify one site, the "Robey Hut", as the remains only consisted of a few bricks.

Mission 4 : Vegetation survey of Lajuma area; 29th August,

This was in effect, three missions in one.  The ostensible reason for this flight was to do a vegetation survey of the Lajuma area for Ian, but we also had to thank a landowner for allowing us to fly over his land, so he requested that his daughter go on the flight.  Then, we decided that, since the area we were covering was the same as we had already search for Hyenas, we slung a Yagi antenna around Noeks' neck (the landowners daughter) and tried to search for Hyena as well.  The vegetation survey, by definition, was a success, and we managed to find the landowner's house and photograph it, so tick in the box there, but the Hyenas were again AWOL.  Very frustrating.

Mission 5 : Searching for Samango monkeys in a remote gorge. Sunday 1st September

Yet another early start, as the Gorge where these monkeys were last seen is about an hours flight from Louis Trichardt.  We arrived at the airfield around 7 am and Birthe (who was going to be the observer), was there with here partner Jabu.  It was really nice just wheeling the aircraft out of the hangar, re-fueling, preflighting and going; rather than having to Pfaff around with removing wing covers etc.  In the event, it was nice and smooth after takeoff, and remained so till we got to the gorge.  The gorge actually sits on a high plateau and was too narrow to fly down, hence we just flew along the each edge, both ways, up and down a couple of times.  

Sadly, no Samangos were in evidence, but we did see some Baboons, so at least we proved that we could see smallish monkeys from a height of 300 ft or so.  This gives some confidence for our next mission when we hunt for Baboons.  The fact that Eagles are the main predators of Samango's, may have prompted them to hide in the tree canopies when they saw our shadow go by, probably mistaking us for a largish Eagle!  The gorge was really spectacular though, and Birthe appreciated the different vantage point as it will help her plan her next trip and identify potential sites to check for the Monkeys.

Mission 2 C : Animal count Moyo part 2, 10th September 1 hour


             First count               Second count                 First count  (total)    Second count  (total)

Kudu                    5               2                                        5                                 2

Impala     29/9/1/1               27/14/7                            40                               48

Wildebees     8/22              10/18/7                            30                               35

Gemsbok  1/2/2/1               1/1/3/3                             6                                  8

Eland                 15               24                                    15                                24
Zebra                 5/3              5                                       8                                  5

Waterbuck            3              8/3                                   3                                  11

Giraffe                   5              5                                       5                                   5

Buffalo                  6              6                                       6                                    6

Duiker                   1/1           0                                       2                                   0

Warthog                3              0                                       3                                   0

Baboon                 0              1/2                                    0                                   3

By way of explanation, for example, when counting the Impala, on the first count we counted a group of 29, plus another group of 9, plus 2 single Impala, thenon the second count, a group of 27 plus a group of 14 then a group of 7.  First count total was 40, and the second count total (performed a couple f weeks later) was 48.

As can be seen, both counts broadly agree, so we can be certain that the numbers are reasonably accurate.

Mission 6 A :  Baboon count 11th September : 2 hours 45 minutes

The reason for the following two missions was to get some idea of how many Baboon troops were operating in two separate commercial farming areas.  The farmers had been complaining to the researcher in question, Leah, that there were hundreds of Baboons eating their crops.  (The subtext was that, if this could be substantiated, there might be grounds for some culling).  It took about 45 minutes to get on station, so we had nearly an hour & half of grid searching on station, where we occasionally went low enough to even spot Guinea Fowl, but, even though we circled a few farms, we saw no Baboons in evidence, (not a single one). 

Mission 6 B :  Baboon count 13th September : 2 hours 30 minutes

The second mission, two days later, was a little closer, so we had about the same time on station, but again, only managed to see one small Baboon troop of 5 individuals.  If there had been any Baboons there, I don't think we would have missed them as again, we managed to see the far smaller Guinea Fowl.  The conclusion has to be that, either the have moved elsewhere temporarily, or there aren't as many Baboons in the first place as the farmers seem to think.  We tend to lean to a combination of the two explanations.

Mission 7 :  Vhembe Reserve vegetation count + trying to locate a collared Lion for the Green Dogs

Sadly this mission, scheduled for the 15th Sept, had to be cancelled as we couldn't get approval from the owner of the park to overfly their property.  However, as Ian is in contact with the owner, who wants Ian's help to establish a reserve.  The reason given that they are nervous about aircraft overflying as there are Rhino there, who's position, they understandably do not want to give away.  We are confident that as the owner gets to trust Ian (and us), more, we can gain his confidence and run this mission when we return next year.