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About John Bassi

A particular moment spent alongside a wild animal, one that stands out among so many, will usually trigger John’s inspiration to create a sculpture.

From his manoeuvrable low level vantage point in the sky, John is able to observe our world from a unique perspective. An animal in gallop is viewed from every angle; its movements, form and musculature are committed to John’s artistic memory and recreated when hands meet clay. Reflected in each sculpture is that merging of their collective instincts – John as sculptor, his subject in motion. Revealed in a moment shared, that essence and interplay between movement and behaviour, combined with John’s meticulous attention to anatomical detail, renders each of his sculptures so true to life.

John’s love of nature manifested at an early age as a young boy growing up in Zimbabwe. His lifelong fascination of wild things and wild places was cast amidst the wide open spaces of the African bushveld, with a myriad of treasures being lovingly collected and taken home to what evolved into a notable private collection. Ornithology formed the basis of this fascination, and as he grew up John’s collection of bird specimens was to become the most comprehensive of its kind at the time. John went on to win the prestigious Young Scientist Award for his significant study of the Blue Waxbill and by this time was collecting bird specimens for national museums in Zimbabwe.

Having completed 3 avian research papers, John’s attentions finally turned skyward.

In 1985, as a flying instructor and while still flying Microlights, John flew extensively over Namibia promoting the awareness and preservation of the desert Rhino and desert Elephant. In 1986, he was the first to pilot an ultra-light along the length of South Africa’s highest mountain range, the Drakensburg, up to 15 000 ft, in order to promote vulture awareness and in 1987 flew from the Namibian border, around the South African coast, to the Mozambique border, in an effort to promote marine conservation and highlight the destruction of the coastline and estuaries.

Combining a passion for aviation and conservation, John specialized in helicopters and has become one of the leading game pilots and conservationists in the country. A pioneer in helicopter capture, wildlife translocation and game census techniques since South Africa’s wildlife boom in the eighties, John has stood at the forefront of the industry and has accumulated over seventeen thousand hours of flying throughout Southern Africa.

Since the eighties John has written published articles on aviation, expeditions and conservation and writes a monthly column for the aviation magazine SAFlyer. His first book “Pilot on the Wild” was recently published in South Africa.

John creates his timeless sculptures in his studio in the Stellenbosch Winelands.

Images from John Bassi's life...

Pilot in the Wild by John Bassi

“I felt so disappointed. The eight elephants milled around below me indecisively, wondering what to expect next. Fortunately they couldn’t know that a culling team was waiting for them at the gate of the reserve, hoping we would fail. Politicians had already authorised the culling of this herd, and only by chance had we been given first option to capture them alive.”

“We soon found the herd, striding off in single file straight back in the direction of thick bush, a kilometre north of where they’d made their escape. They were not amused
by our return. Facing me defiantly, the matriarch backed her family into a thicket of trees to make her point. They bundled tightly, hiding the small calf between their legs and
turning to face me, ears flapping and trunks raised, daring me to come closer.”

Fuelled by a passion for wilderness and aviation, John Bassi embarked on a challenging and fascinating journey through the birth, growth and change of South Africa’s game capture industry. Translocation projects, wildlife research, and veterinary and breeding projects expose him to the shape, form and movement of African wildlife on a daily basis. John specialised in operating helicopters and has become one of the leading game capture pilots and conservationists in the country. John has stood at the forefront of the industry and has accumulated over sixteen thousand hours of flying throughout Southern Africa.

Flying a helicopter while interpreting and anticipating the behaviour of wild animals under stress is a delicate balancing act that takes hundreds of hours to master. A helicopter never really wants to fly, but somehow its combination of moving parts with the noise of a usually underpowered engine beats the air into submission and manages to defy gravity. You strap yourself into a little seat surrounded by a fishbowl view. The tiny rotors whirr frantically above your head only because you’re constantly squeezing the motorcycle-type throttle to its limit in an effort to maximise engine power.

On the flip side, he has been witness to elements that hide commercial exploitation under the guise of conservation and he has seen the degradation of some of South Africa’s pristine wilderness areas; an all too familiar sight echoing the ruin of his beloved Zimbabwe. John has incorporated his extensive knowledge and skill into providing a unique helicopter platform for wildlife research projects, large-scale anthrax vaccinating, aerial game censuses, radio tracking, ecological surveys, helicopter safaris, conservation education and everything else imaginable with regards to rotorcraft
aviation.

About The Author

John Bassi has dedicated most of his life to the plight of wildlife in Africa. Raised in north-eastern Zimbabwe, he was inspired by a life of living and working in wilderness areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Learning about the cruel realities of war and human greed, he made a vow to devote his life to protecting nature. John has written articles on aviation, expeditions and conservation and, since February 2002, has been writing articles for the monthly aviation magazine SA Flyer. His contribution to our natural heritage has been immeasurable, a legacy made all the more admirable considering how few possess the passion, expertise and empathy required to be an exceptional wildlife helicopter pilot.