Tuesday, 25 October 2016

An Elephant Family Finds a New Home with Shared Universe

The Great Elephant Census of 2016 has just published their findings and it’s shocking. African Elephants are down 30% in the past seven years and numbers are now only 350 000 over 18 African countries. One elephant is being poached every 15 minutes for its ivory – that’s 40 000 a year.

In an era where wilderness is shrinking, conservation areas become ring fenced and human populations expand, the space for wild things dwindles. We stand perched at the edge of a world where the magnificent creatures that have travelled with us through the ages and form part of humanities fabric of being are reduced to theme park amusements in zoo's and synthetic wilderness parks.

We too readily forget that Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity for the human spirit. This is an era that demands urgent conservation philanthropy particularly from the private sector in regards to creating or expanding habitat for wild creatures and protecting them for future generations.

This concept became avidly clear when I recently accompanied Rae Safaris and the Shared Universe Foundation on the relocation of a family group of eight Elephants into their newly expanded conservancy of Mapesu. The reserve was historically used for cattle farming and hunting and hasn’t seen resident elephant for over 100 years, but all that is about to change.

The Limpopo valley is a vast wilderness area, a quiet primitive place, home to some of South Africa’s most noteworthy Khoi San rock art and of course to the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This valley has enormous potential as a vast trans-frontier conservation area, a vision actively promoted by Shared Universe.

Poaching had reached unmanageable proportions in certain parts of the valley and this Elephant family was in desperate need of a new home.

I was completely unprepared for the scale of the operation into which I was to become part and the dedication of the people involved. It was a massive undertaking involving vets, helicopters, large cranes, specially modified transport containers and a brave and dedicated ground crew.

The operation got off the ground before dawn but it was only at around midday that the elephants were located and nudged towards our position by the patient buzzing of an experienced helicopter pilot.

The heat seemed to flow upwards and the entire landscape shimmered under a relentless assault. Even the giant baobabs seemed to melt like silvery grey wax; their voodoo limbs reaching to the heavens in desperate plea to end the inferno.

We were all concerned that the elephants may succumb in these extreme conditions so the operation had to happen quickly and seamlessly to ensure there were no fatalities. The highly experienced crew managed to dart and load these slumbering giants into the specially modified transport containers within a couple of hours.

Once the antidote was administered it was thrilling to hear the thundering bangs and thumps as the Elephants slowly awoke and came to their feet. The huge containers shook and quivered with their colossal load.

The cavalcade of trucks, surrounded in billows of red dust, ponderously made its way back along rough dirt tracks on their long drive through silent rock and unbounded space to Mapesu and a new freedom.

Although it had been taxing day and everyone was fatigued after what had been a herculean effort, all was forgotten as we stood in a reverential hush as these gentle behemoths slowly walked out of the truck and into their new home.

The landscape itself seemed to expand and welcome home these gentle hearts and a sense of completeness pervaded the air. An essential puzzle piece had been restored.

Elephants are a keystone species and crucial to Africa’s forests and savannas. They are vulnerable and creating a sustainable elephant population will require a coordinated and multifaceted effort.
We all need to be committed to the belief that through innovation and dedication we can conquer what initially appears insurmountable.  

Monday, 22 August 2016


South Africa isn't a country normally associated with snow, however there are a few locations where snow can be expected in the winter months; particularly the Drakensberg Mountain range soaring an incredible 10 000ft above sea level.

The Afrikaans name Drakensberge comes from the name the earliest Dutch settlers to the region gave it. They called them the Mountains of Dragons; an apt name indeed for this mythical and savage mountain range.

We recently went in search of snow in the Drakensberg and were rewarded with a light dusting of white on the high peaks. With all the holes we have cut in our aircraft for photography, I must say it was slightly chilly up there with temperatures below -10 degrees Celsius, but with the help of excellent piloting and a few flasks of hot coffee we managed to capture a few images of one of South Africa's most beautiful World Heritage Sites


Wednesday, 10 August 2016


Recently I accompanied Rae Safaris on an unusual Tourism meets Conservation safari at the Pilansberg National Park, with a group of veterinarians and animal behaviourists.

For the first couple of days we used telemetry to track down predators with the exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate John Power and Andrew Rae. Then followed up with a series of white and black rhino notchings and chipping with the Pilansberg Rhino Protection Service.

This was an exceptional few days where we got up close and personal to one of Africa's greatest of mammals in a meaningful way, that contributes not only towards their protection but also to our scientific understanding of them.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Flying the Grand Fish River

The Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia, is the second largest canyon on earth. It features a gigantic ravine 160 km long and up to 27 km wide, and in places almost 550 metres deep.

Photographing the Canyon from above has always seemed to escape us mainly due to logistical issues. However we recently managed to do a few very successful flights over this awe inspiring landscape.

It is a real challenge to try and capture the canyon's enormity and grandeur on film. This is an ancient landscape that has formed over millions of years; its contours lovingly shaped by sand, wind and water. A geological wonderland that humbled us to our core.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Glory of a Circular Rainbow

A rainbow gets its traditional semicircle shape from the horizon, which makes it seem as if it is half a circle. So when the same atmospheric conditions that create a rainbow are observed from an airplane, a rainbow can appear to be a full circle.

This is aptly named a glory.

This glory was photographed from our plane over the Kalahari Desert a few days ago.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Boomslang on the hunt

Recently while on safari in Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province of South Africa we heard some black-eyed Bulbuls uttering distress calls in a thicket nearby. When we approached the thicket we had the privilege of watching a Boomslang on the hunt.

The highly camouflaged Boomslang approached the Bulbul nest with a beautiful liquid grace and over a half hour period proceeded to kill and eat a young bulbul chick. The Bulbul parents where distraught and tried their utmost to distract the Boomslang, but to no avail.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Juno Andromeda Skydog

Juno Andromeda Skydog - Maiden Flight

Jay and Juno

“In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.”
W.H. Auden

We picked up this little waif one month ago; starving, covered in mange and ringworm and abandoned in a small town on the border of Kwazulu Natal on a cold winters morning - this little doggie had a tough start to life.

One month later she is 4.4kg's and has a zest for life that has everyone smiling!
Her name;  Juno Andromeda Skydog, our companion, friend and a fearless aviator.

Here she is on her maiden voyage -  a 20 minute flight from Baragwanath airfield to Pitlamatla on the Vaal Dam. After some initial excitement with take-off she settled down and had a good snooze on the back seat.

She spent the rest of the day chasing mongoose, being perplexed with her first Ostrich sighting, paddling in the dam and licking out the potjie pot. What a life!