Protecting Africa’s Beloved Wildlife with Mark Haldane

September 28, 2020

Mozambique in southeast Africa is home to some of Africa’s most beloved wildlife, including lions, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, and zebras. However, over the last few decades, wildlife populations have dwindled. 

Mark Haldane started flying 25 years ago, but aviation has been a part of his life for even longer. Mark grew up in South Africa, and has operated in the ‘rural, rural’ part of Mozambique for over 25 years. 

Years ago, he acquired half a million acres in the Zambezi Delta, and today, it’s where his company, Wildlife Helicopters, is based. Over the years, Mark and his team have played a pivotal role in the repopulation of wildlife.

Mark completed some of the area’s first wildlife surveys. He’s seen Zambeze Delta’s buffalo grow from 1,200 to 25,000 - a remarkable increase compared to other populations in Africa. 

“Everyone’s involved,” Mark explains, “The pilots, the counters, the scientists. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do. There are so many areas in Africa and across the world with loss of habitat, overexploitation, and poaching. Being in an area where the numbers continue to go up is rewarding.”

Flying with Lions

In 2018, Mark was involved in the largest international move of wild lions — as part of a wildlife reintroduction project. To this day, flying 24 sedated lions for 7 hours from South Africa to the Zambezi Delta is one of Mark’s most memorable experiences.

“We had lions standing up in the back of the planes and all sorts of catastrophes, but to get them there and to see them thrive as they have in the ecosystem has been incredible,” Mark says. 

Today, the Zambezi Delta lions have a range of 2.5 million acres, and their numbers have doubled.

“It’s always interesting to see the numbers, and it’s very rewarding, especially when you find a new litter of cubs."

Along with aerial surveying and game capture, Mark and his team do a broad range of work for the wildlife industry, government game reserves, and various NGOs. As the only helicopter operator in the Zambezi Delta, he also runs charters, taking tourists to safari camps from Beira’s feeder airport. 

Out of everything he does, Mark still enjoys wildlife surveying the most. Wildlife is also one of his greatest passions. Because of this, you’re not likely to find Mark at the office. 

“I fly quite a bit, and I’m involved on the safari side as well. So, quite often, my office is the cockpit of a helicopter.”

Protection Against Poachers

When the best views are often above, aviation plays a critical role in something else: protecting wildlife against poachers. Mark also runs an anti-poaching team. 

The savannah and dry woodlands of southern Mozambique are home to the African elephant, where the species’ population sits around 600.

Mark says that if he stopped his anti-poaching unit, 90% of the game would be lost to poaching in 3 years. 

“It’s quite an important role we play. If we’re going to keep this wonderful and wild ecosystem for our grandkids to see one day, we best keep looking after it,” Mark says.

Mark’s helicopters work overhead as an ‘eye in the sky’ to search for signs of poaching. If they find anything, he’ll deploy a unit of rangers to investigate. His team will also drop rangers off in places that are otherwise inaccessible, such as islands in the swamp region.

No Roads, No Cellphones, No Aircraft Control  

For the most part, the Zambeze Delta is flat and forgiving, with its highest point at 100 feet above sea level. A third of the area is delta, a mix of grasslands, savannas, and swamp forests that remain dry nine months of the year. 

The rest of the land is wooded, with mahogany trees that stand upwards of 50 feet.

“Those areas of the ones we have to be aware of because if a chopper went in there, there’s no way to land. The canopy would simply swallow you up,” Mark explains. 

100 miles north of Beira, and without much of a road network, Wildlife Helicopters is base is very remote. 

“There’s no real living there,” Mark explains, “Just one main road and then a couple of dirt tracks here and there, so helicopters pretty much help you get around.”

It’s also an area outside of controlled air space.

“There’s no cellphone communication or anything, so we rely on Spidertracks pretty heavily to know everyone’s safe and sound, and where they are at any given time.”

Mark recognises that it’s easier for pilots to start to neglect the basics of safety and to ‘cowboy up there’ outside of controlled airspace. 

“Pilots feel like because they are running these smaller aircraft that the safety rules don’t apply to them and they can fly ad hoc and do whatever. What we’ve tried to do is make sure we have a formal protocol for how everyone flies,” he says. 

During the low season, there is often only one pilot at camp. Within his small team, safety depends on something simple yet fundamental: making sure everyone knows what’s going on.

When the office knows all the details for the day, including when to expect pilots back, they can watch for the helicopters on Spidertracks. 

“Being so remote and not flying out of an airport, we’ve got to make sure that we report to the office every single day. Otherwise, it could leave us in a lurch,” Mark says. 

Preserving an Ecosystem 

Although COVID-19 has slowed down tourism, Mark has big plans for the future of Wildlife Helicopters. 

Wildlife Helicopters will begin to shadow Mozambique’s primary veterinarian - a wildlife vet. Pilots will once again act as an eye in the sky to make sure Mozambique’s wildlife continues to thrive.  

Mark also acquired another block of land northwest, where Mozambique shares a border with Zambia. It’s home to lions and elephants, although both populations are at risk of dwindling further. 

He notes that there is a future plan for them to work on anti-poaching with Rhino in Southern Mozambique, where their horns cost upwards for $250,000. South Africa is losing around two rhinos a day from poaching - Mark would like to to replicate his work in the Zambezi Delta to increase the area’s rhino population. 

“They are only just on the right side of the curve. Rhinos are breeding slightly faster than they are poached, but it’s becoming pretty close,” Mark explains.

Thanks to a remote Mozambique base, Wildlife Helicopters can continue to serve a large area and assist in a range of conservation efforts. In a place where aviation plays a crucial role in conservation, Wildlife Helicopters is helping to keep animals safe. To make sure their pilots stay safe, they’ve got Spidertracks. 


Find out how Spidertracks can make your aircraft safer and more efficient. Schedule a demo here today.

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