Hannes van Wyk, Peace Parks Foundation’s Chief Pilot and Aviation Manager and a ranger from Limpopo National Park, are on their way to the Pafuri area in the north to do a routine patrol flight. Shortly after take-off, the team is confronted by bad weather, which forces them to make an unexpected landing at Gaza Airfield in Mozambique. While waiting for a clear weather window, Hannes bides his time by exploring the airstrip – and what he finds is incredible! Not only does he spot a piece of history, but he also sees quite a few hyena tracks.
Situated under the shade of a tree just a short distance from the runway is a grave that the ranger assumes belongs to someone quite important in the area many years ago. But it is what Hannes finds hidden in the dust near the grave that is quite unique – a rusty old pair of handcuffs. It is unlikely that the handcuffs had any relevance to the grave and seems more likely that they got washed down by a once flooding Shingwedzi River, located just a few hundred metres from the airstrip, after recent rains.
Although not much is known about this eerie artefact, Hannes explains that he will take the handcuffs back to the Limpopo National Park head office for it to be further analysed. Finding something like a pair of handcuffs is often associated with a darker time in a region’s history, it tells a story of who passed through here, how they lived and what happened on the land. For these reasons, it is important to keep artefacts safe and on display, so history does not repeat itself.
Hannes continues to sweep the airfield to see what else he can find and soon comes across several spotted hyena tracks. This clan is known to frequent the area in numbers. Just as humans will naturally choose the path of least resistance or effort, so too will animals, and a large, open clearing such as an airfield, is the perfect place for them to get reprieve from the dense vegetation.
Not only do our pilots help to keep our protected areas safe but being able to scour over runways for tracks provides us with insight as to what animals have been frequenting the areas. When in the air, a bird’s-eye-view of the landscape also allows pilots and observers to get some incredible game viewing opportunities.