On Saturday 15 December 2023 Roger Bozzoli, a volunteer pilot associated with the Batteleurs phoned me and asked if I want to accompany him on a flight from Rand Airport to Kimberly Airport in the Northern Cape to fetch an injured 18 months old Speckled Cape Vulture chick and fly it to Kroon Airfield where the Owl Rescue Centre would collect it for rehabilitation.
Off course I said yes.
Founded in 1998, The Bateleurs is a South African Non-Profit Company (NPC), with over 200 volunteer pilots and aircraft. It provides its beneficiaries and the public with an aerial perspective of the environment and has coordinated several diverse missions throughout South Africa and Africa in support of environmental issues. Its mission is well-aligned with the United Nations Millennium Goals, ensuring environmental sustainability and assisting with the integration of the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes.
The Bateleurs provides decision-makers, researchers, educators, other NPC's and the media with information which assists them to make sound environmental decisions. There is no charge to beneficiaries for the environmental missions flown by The Bateleurs, and a rigorous process is in place to review and approve (or not) all flight requests, to monitor missions and track all the activities of The Bateleurs. Pilot members and their aircraft provide the equivalent of 70% of the annual budget, the balance is sourced through fundraising activities.
Owl Rescue Centre
Realising that there was a rapid decline in owl numbers and that owls had become one of the most common wildlife casualties brought into veterinary practices, Brendan Murray and his wife, Danelle, decided fifteen years ago, to focus all their efforts on conserving them. The organisation they founded, Owl Rescue Centre, is based at Hartbeespoort in the North West Province, and now takes in more than a thousand owls every year through their rescue efforts. The owls are rehabilitated and when they can survive on their own in the wild, are released in the sanctuary - a farm which is located within a 12,000-hectare conservancy.
Brendan Patrick Murray spent most of his young life observing and studying birds. Brendan has been involved in wildlife conservation for more than 30 years. He started his initial field studies in the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana where he researched several species of birds of prey, studying their hunting and breeding behaviour, their habitat and possible threats to their conservation. Since then, Brendan has successfully rescued, rehabilitated and released thousands of different species of wildlife and is internationally renowned as a specialist in his field and one of the most knowledgeable persons on owl conservation in the world.
The weather when we left Rand was flyable and in any case we had planned for an IFR flight which was approved and we left at approximately 10.45 for the 453 km and 1.5 hour, as the crow flies, flight. We did encounter rain and some thunderstorms along the way and dodged these, as most of the traffic in the sky then seemed to doing.
We therefore arrived at Kimberley more than 30 minutes late and time being of the essence as we did not know what we may encounter of the too Kroon I set out to find the vulture while Roger attended to the paper work. As it turned out he found it before me.
The approximately eighteen-month old chick, who seems quite feisty in his cardboard box, we were told had flown into a power line and had damaged his wing so badly that it had to be amputated. He, would eventually be used for breeding. However, Vulture chicks only reach breeding age at eight years Fortunately the Owl Rescue Centre had volunteered to take care of him until then.
With our precious cargo safely on board we set out for Kroon which is approximately half way between Pretoria and Brits. Initially the weather was rather good but got worse as we flew past Potchefstroom in the Northwest province. It fortunately cleared as we approached Hartbeespoort Dam and the General Flying Area which for once was devoid of any traffic.
We saw Brendon's vehicle as we did our downwind at Kroon and landed. After introduction he took the chick out and we had our first face to face with our passenger who did not seem happy at all. Brendon however, handled him expertly and gently and we could see that he was in good hands.
The final leg to Rand was without incident and we landed on Runway 17.
I have always wanted to accompany a volunteer pilot on a Batteleurs mission and many thanks must go to Roger who have made this dream come true.