flying into the unknown | botswana - becoming a conservation bush pilot
saving elephants & rhinos from extinction
Botswana, a country in Africa with a population of about 2 million people is known for having the largest population of elephants on earth.
Since the 1980s, Botswana has been fighting poaching & protecting its wildlife from encroachment by human settlements. The government has been making efforts to conserve their abundant wildlife through anti-poaching campaigns in recent years & deploying the Botswana Defence Force to patrol the borders to keep out poachers from neighboring countries. As a result, there are now more than 250,000 elephants in the country compared to just 20,000 in 1980's.
In order to protect its wildlife further, a select group of volunteer pilots have been deployed to remote areas of the country to aid in anti-poaching efforts that have become a blight on the great work the people of this beautiful nation have done to increase the population of elephants, rhinos & other animals in the majestic Okavango delta & beyond.
Botswana has one of the largest elephant populations in Africa, but poaching is a major threat to the animal's survival. Volunteer pilots from around the globe help with conservation efforts flying over designated areas and searching for signs of poaching or other illegal activities that threaten wildlife. Volunteer pilots are mostly retired military pilots but there are a few pilots who use some of their spare time to help or as in my case to devote my skills solely for conservation & humanitarian efforts.
As a certified pilot, I was always on the lookout for new and exciting opportunities to fly, especially in the vast plains of Africa. It was a dream of mine to fly above the vast landscapes of this beautiful continent. The opportunity to volunteer in Botswana was a perfect fit for me as i have deep connection with the continent through extensive travels over the years.
Volunteers are trained and equipped to fly small aircrafts (mainly Cessna's), which can be used for anti-poaching & wildlife conservation. Conservation projects & private individuals have been successful in their mission as they have helped save many elephants, rhinos & other animals from poachers over the years.
While the job sounds like a dream there is a real element of danger flying as i found out one day when a group of poachers started shooting at my Cessna while i was radioing for the ground team to intercept them, fortunately i wasn't hit the poachers were arrested.
The job of a volunteer pilot in Botswana is not an easy one, but it is an extremely rewarding one.
It takes a certain type of person to be able to survive the harsh conditions that come with being a volunteer pilot in Botswana. You need to be able to handle being alone for long periods of time and you need to have the ability to work hard for long hours. You also have to be willing and able to spend your own money on fuel or other necessities that might not be provided by the company you are working for.
Volunteer pilots in Africa are often called bush pilots because they fly small planes into remote areas, usually where there are no roads, and these planes can't carry many passengers at once. They may fly people around who are doing conservation work or for medical emergencies but aircrafts such as the Cessna 172 only have enough space for one extra person making them great for anti-poaching efforts but not for passenger services although i was alway happy to take medical personel into the field.
I travelled to Maun (the main airport/town for the Okavango delta) many times, sometimes for weeks on end to volunteer, it was one of the great periods of my life having a direct impact on saving these majestic animals from the plight of the ivory trade. Unfortunately due to the pandemic all activities stopped & poaching actually increased in recent months. I sincerly hope to get back to my volunteer work in 2023.
Those of you in the aviation industry that are looking for a way to give back i cannot think of a better way to save the planet than to help one of its most majestic creatures from extinction. We as pilots can use our skills for good & help save these iconic animals for the next generation.
how to get there
Before arriving to Maun you will first have to travel to the capital Gaborone. I flew from vienna via ethiopia with ethiopian airlines.
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country travel tips
atm: most banks offer withdrawals for ($3). don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: vodacom 2GB is ($20) for 7 days. got an e-sim enabled phone, try airalo
transport: public bus & internal flights are best.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here