The Bateleurs have entrenched their status as Southern Africa’s “environmental air force” through a group of volunteer pilots giving aerial support to legitimate conservationists. 2023 marks 25 years of this pioneering fleet.
The Bateleurs, a group of volunteer pilots who crisscross Southern African skies, have dedicated their lives to assisting Conservationists in the most critical of times. Founded in 1998 by Nora Kreher, a woman with a passion for Africa’s Wildlife and nature conservation, her vision was to have eyes in the sky keeping watch over some of our most vulnerable and valuable wildlife. Kreher's vision has, to date, made a huge impact in the fight against poaching and the loss of Africa's Wildlife.
Volunteers and Veldskoen
Recognising unique ways for donors to support the cause has meant brand new partnerships for Bateleurs in the form of collaborations with footwear brand Veldskoen Shoes. The locally made and proudly South African company have produced a Bateleurs Veldskoen. The black-soled Heritage Veldskoen with the Bateleurs logo embroidered on the leather upper can now be bought and worn by donators with proceeds of the sales going towards the movement.
Paying it forward
The Bateleurs rely on volunteer pilots to do most of the flying. There are 200-plus dedicated volunteers on standby to assist the conservationists on the ground with coordinated missions, providing advice from an aerial perspective – critical for anti-poaching teams. These men and women not only donate their time and expertise but also contribute to the operating costs of the aircraft. Depending on the aircraft, this can be in the region of R1750.00 per hour. The constant monitoring is essential work, as it impacts hugely on our environmental safety, from the ocean, traversing the bushlands and all the way to the mountains and rivers.
Steve McCurrach and Maghan Hudson (HIP) in his SkyReach "Bushcat" Light Sport Aircraft
Seasoned Bateleurs pilot Donavan Bailey says - “Flying for the environment is the most rewarding flying job you can have. Using your skills to improve conservation and people’s lives conservation and people’s lives is a calling we all need!
These skilled and dedicated volunteers offer their aircraft, time, and expertise at no cost to the Bateleurs, a registered Not for Profit organisation, accounting for approximately 70% of the “Value” of the Bateleurs.
“An environmental air force, which has had a profound effect on conservation tactics in Southern Africa” is how Wildlife writer, James Clarke once described them.
Their flying missions have varied from exposing illegal activities, monitoring proposed developments (mining, tolls roads, informal housing), tracking animals with telemetry equipment, conducting surveys of animal populations, and at times having as many as 14 microlights in the sky at once counting elephants in the Maputo Elephant Reserve, and a crocodile count in Josini. They have transported endangered wildlife between conservation areas, documenting vulnerable wetlands adjacent to urban sprawl.
Other missions included the translocations of four African Lions and fourteen African Wild Dogs, aerial searches for a collared Leopard and for a Whale possibly entangled in fishing gear. The reconnaissance and anti-poaching missions, aerial surveys of breeding sites of vultures and other large tree-nesting birds as well as game censuses, transportation of four African Penguins and a Fur Seal as well as critically endangered Estuarine Pipefish and the aerial photography of destructive mining operations. Missions flown, often encompassed more than one objective, with multiple ‘sub-benefits’ emerging from most flights.
Avroy Shlain, CEO of COBB International and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bateleurs, says he remembers getting a phone call from the late Nora Kreher asking if he was available to assist in flying a vet and his assistant to an injured cheetah in the Alldays area. On arrival, Avroy was told by the wildlife vet that the cheetah had been badly injured while hunting and it was going to take a while to help her, but that there were four 6-week-old cheetah cubs that needed to get to a rescue facility in case she did not make it. These cubs were then placed in a cardboard box in the back of Avroy's Cessna C182T. As they were nearing Lanseria, he realised that he would be flying into a serious storm and diverted to Grand Central. Through the Bateleur family on the ground, he managed to get a message to Ann Van Dyk from the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre to let her know they had been diverted. Avroy had to land immediately downwind as the storm was so bad. After many hours of delay, with the cheetah cubs getting restless in their cardboard box, in the “backseat” he was able to complete his mission successfully and safely deliver the cubs to the Rehabilitation Centre. It is often risky business, but this is the weekly stuff that these volunteer men and women pilots do for conservation. Flying helicopters and planes to chase poachers or transport animals through bad situations to help our wildlife combines their passion for flying and making a difference. It is that simple.
Pilot Stefan Coetzee and Sphe Mbongwa (HIP) assisting in the Hluhluwe census game count
Raising Crucial Funds
A continuous effort in raising funds for this incredible group is paramount to its survival. There is no charge to beneficiaries for the missions flown by The Bateleurs. The organisation relies solely on funding to cover its operational costs which include ad hoc payments to volunteer pilots for fuel and other mission-related expenses.
Over 24 years, generous donors have provided funding to the value of more than R 14 million. In turn, The Bateleurs have delivered environmental services to the value of R 41.8 million, after the deduction of all operating costs. Thus giving back 300% of their donor’s funds directly to the environment.
You will immediately ask “How do they do this?” Well, the pilots are its biggest contributors, whereby they use the financial support of its benefactors to offset only the pilot’s fuel burn. However, fuel represents only a quarter of the average running cost of an aircraft. So, by encouraging the pilots with fuel support, coupled with their willingness to give up the balance for the greater good, the pilots make their very generous and committed contributions, and this is how R1 in financial support converts into R4 in value in aerial services in conservation. Add to this their recent SARS Section 18a authorisation and the supporters’ contribution is ‘deductible’ for them.
The Bateleurs managed admirably through the Lockdown and had a prolific 2020 conducting 32 missions comprising 117 successful flights. The conservation and/or environmental objectives of the flight requests were scrutinised in accordance with the qualifying criteria.
Pilot Thomas Marrow
Head Ecologist for HIP Dave Druce
Veldskoen Shoes co-founder and CEO Nick Dreyer says “Veldskoen is committed to supporting organisations that have South African values and strive to protect the natural beauty and creatures of our country. Supporting the Bateleurs is a privilege and we relish the opportunity to shine a light on the amazing work that they do.” https://www.veldskoen.com/products/heritage-the-bateleurs-safari-black-sole
COBB CEO Avroy Shlain continues "It’s all very well having a great product but what’s the contribution to the well-being of our planet and our people? There’s always a responsibility to conservation and the environment. COBB is proud to be associated with Bateleurs and is an environmentally friendly product itself. Partnering with Bateleurs means that with every COBB sold, the full sale amount goes toward the phenomenal conservation efforts by the Bateleur team. We’re a South African brand and are proud of our beautiful country. Together we are stronger in conserving our environment."