Every species of animal demonstrates different patterns of behaviour. The job of the conservationist is to monitor and safeguard these naturally evolved habits whilst limiting the impact doing so has on the animals themselves.
Given the large distances travelled by migratory animals, getting the balance of supervision and non-disturbance right can be very difficult, especially with regards to elephant conservation.
As a result, aerial reconnaissance is one of the best tools in the conservationist’s armoury. If you want to learn more about what exactly we look out for when we are conducting our rhino and elephant conservation flights, then have a look at this article on the five things we look out for from the skies.
At the Tsavo Trust, we’ve found that the best way to watch out for our travelling tuskers is through the use of aircraft and, in particular, the Super Cub Aircraft. Super Cubs are known for their short take-off and landing capabilities and their slow flying speed. These qualities make them ideal for conservation related bush flying.
There are even some, in the elephant conservation game, who consider the Super Cub to be the best bush and backcountry aircraft ever created.
Our fleet of aircraft shoulder a huge bulk of the conservation work we do here and, though they are hugely appreciated by those of us that know and fly them, a lot of the heroic work done by these planes often goes unsung.
So, without further ado, we want to introduce these intrepid work-horses. We’ll describe their strengths and their quirks, their jobs and their daily routines, and hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of how crucial the Tsavo Trust’s aerial fleet is to animal and, in particular, elephant conservation.
5Y ACE, affectionately shortened to just Ace, is the oldest of our fleet. She’s been flying conservation related flights for nearly fifty years and has an incredible story. In her younger years, Ace used to fly Bill Woodley, arguably one of Kenya’s finest and most storied game wardens, in his mountain rescue missions and anti-poaching reconnaissance flights.
Woodley’s daring flights have become the thing of legend for modern-day bush pilots. There are accounts of firefights he used to conduct with bandits, his knees controlling the plane and his hands involved in returning fire.
Ace undoubtedly took part in missions like these. She was also often charged with carrying royalty whenever they wanted to see what the African wilds had to offer.
Ace, who has likely been involved in more anti-poaching missions than any soul, living or mechanised, in Kenya’s history, is now a very aged plane. She flies with a mind of her own and our pilots have to understand her mannerisms well to get the best out of her. But she is still integral to our operations here, despite her old age.
She knows the Tsavo Conservation Area like the back of her wings but is sadly in need of some drastic rebuilding. Much of her bodywork is in need of some sizeable repairs.
The newest member of our team, 5Y JAR is nippy and fresh where Ace is slowing down. 5Y JAR might not have the storied past that Ace does but she’s got her own role in the team.
Outfitted with a set of extremely big Alaskan bush wheels, 5Y JAR is integral in our exploration of the wilder areas of the TCA. Her huge tyres allow for our landing in harsher terrain. It is in these wilder areas that poachers often make their camps so the work done by 5Y JAR is hugely appreciated.
5Y TTZ is our real work horse. She does the brunt of our bush flying and is constantly deployed in the tracking of poachers or the surveillance of sites of interest.
5Y TTZ has another role, earmarked especially for her, she is charged with the sole responsibility of rhino monitoring and is, as a result, absolutely essential to the conservation of those majestic creatures here in the Tsavo Conservation Area.
Appreciation where its due: a celebration of the Super Cub Airplane
As has been mentioned, the Super Cub is arguably the best aircraft ever to have been built for conservation. It can take off and land quickly and with relative ease, it can fly slow while remaining in control.
It also handles well at low altitudes and recovers from stalls with ease. It truly is a remarkable piece of engineering and we’re very happy to have three of the best on our team. But the Super Cubs require fuel. Without what we put in them, they sit idly and useless, falling short of the lofty ambitions we set for them.
Your donations are essential in keeping these majestic machines up in the air and protecting Kenya’s wildlife. They might also be needed in the rebuilding work needed for Ace. How much 5Y ACE, and her fleetmates, do for wildlife in Kenya cannot be overstated so, if you feel you can, please donate to keep them flying.