Wild animals are frequently moved around by aircraft and helicopter in southern Africa, but it is not often, however, that a PC-12 is used to transport wild dogs. Such an unusual assignment is not without its challenges, as you will find out below. Authorised Pilatus Centre Southern Africa (PTY) Ltd
Towards the end of November 2016, “The Bateleurs” received a request to move eight wild dogs by air: five females and three males were to be relocated from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana. The goal of the project was to expand the habitat of endangered African wild dogs in southern Africa, and also to increase the population in the region. To achieve this, they had been asked to assist in moving two groups of genetically unrelated wild dogs.
The PC-12: the perfect solution
Tim Webster and Raymond Steyn of the Authorised Pilatus Centre South Africa are both members of The Bateleurs, and volunteer both aircraft and piloting skills to the organisation. The centre agreed to do the transfer using a PC-12. The PC-12 was perfect for this job, which required all the characteristics that set this aircraft apart: a spacious cabin for the eight dogs, high speed for the relatively long distance, the ability to fly in bad weather if need be and the option to land on unpaved runways. All in all, the PC-12 proved an indispensable “removal van”.
The move involved relocating five females from Tembe Elephant Park and three males from the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve to the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The project required meticulous preparation and good collaboration between the numerous organisations involved: the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in care of overall planning, plus several wildlife protection organisations such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the WildlifeACT Fund, Colchester Zoo, Botswana Department of Wildlife and Veterinary services and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve.
Good planning is essential
The sun had not yet risen when the two pilots, Tim and Raymond, arrived at Lanseria International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, to prepare the PC-12 (ZS-NYM) for the flight. Inside the cabin, all the seats except two, for the vet and his assistant, were removed. Plastic sheeting was also rolled out over the floor to prevent any animal fluids from contaminating the aircraft.
The two pilots were about to start on a very long day! The plan was to fly to Ladysmith to collect the three males and the vet before heading to Mkhuze to collect the five females. Then there would be a stop at Polokwane International Airport to clear immigration and customs before the PC-12 could fly its precious cargo on to Limpopo Valley Airport in Botswana, where the wild dogs would be released into their new home.
Bad weather and sleeping dogs
The team had to wait for a long time at Lanseria due to bad weather. A gap in the front finally allowed them to depart for Ladysmith to board the three males and their vet. Further bad weather forced the PC-12 to divert to Richard’s Bay Airport, 93 miles (150 kilometres) from Mkhuze, to pick up the five female wild dogs. Some time later, the PC-12 finally took off from Richard’s Bay with all eight wild dogs on board.
The next stop was Polokwane to clear customs and immigration. The airport officials were extremely helpful. Even for them, clearing wild dogs through customs and immigration was by no means an everyday experience. We suspect the nature of the “cargo” probably helped to ensure that the stopover was completed in only 20 minutes! The customs officers were fascinated by the sleeping dogs, but also rather worried they might wake up before the PC-12 was off the tarmac again.
After the short stopover in Polokwane, the PC-12 continued on to Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Luckily, there were no veterinary emergencies during the flight and all eight dogs arrived at their new home in Botswana in good health, if still slightly groggy from the anaesthetic. The project has been a great success, and the dogs have settled down very well in their new habitat.