The Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi Challenge, a 55km mountain bike ride through Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, is just around the corner.
The ride is one of the more unique in South Africa as it allows members of the public into parts of the park rarely seen. A temporary camp is also set up for participants, which is also a rare and special experience as no camping is usually allowed in the park.
The Wild Series events provide outdoor enthusiasts with the chance to run and cycle in special parts of the country, but also to contribute towards preserving our wilderness areas and wildlife.
Not only does the iMfolozi Challenge take participants through Big Five territory in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, but it also goes through sections of the reserve 100 percent closed off to the public.
“It’s Africa’s oldest game reserve, and you get to ride on tracks that are never open to the public. That makes this truly unique,” says race director Stuart Berry.
“The event is 55km but is not that easy,” says Berry, “there is no time limit (just sunset), making it a relaxed day out.”
More than a relaxed day out, the ride is a necessary day out, with funds from the entry fee going directly into conservation efforts. One of the major concerns of conservationists in the area are the dwindling numbers of African wild dog, with only around 412 individuals remaining in South Africa. Over the past 10 years this event has raised over R 2 000 000 for conservation.
One of the beneficiaries of the iMfolozi Challenge is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve Anti-Poaching Unit (APU), a group that also helps to monitor the wild dogs in the park.
The APU is increasingly hamstrung by budget cuts, so the importance of events like the iMfolozi Challenge as fundraisers grows with each passing year. Members of the APU are also present at the event; they are there to ensure rider safety from any curious animals in the reserve.
“During the event our field rangers and AP Unit will be along the route just making sure to clear any dangerous game that might be hazardous,” says the Anti-Poaching Unit’s Jed Bird.
“The field rangers clear dangerous animals off the route before the cyclists get there. And then they will be stationed at checkpoints along the way throughout the race, just to make sure that those animals don’t reappear.”
Bird adds that it’s important to understand the animals, something the rangers are more than capable of. “Most of our guys have been working in the field for 10, 20 years now, so they are extremely competent in their roles and responsibilities.”
Naturally, the iMfolozi Challenge is the ideal way to ensure the park’s Anti-Poaching Unit stays in business.
“The funds generated from the event are very important, and they’re becoming more important as each year goes by as we have budget cut after budget cut, so we are becoming more reliant on these kinds of events to give us funding,” says Bird.
“At the moment most of our funds from this event are geared towards the wild dogs and monitoring them with collars and such along with other necessary equipment.”
For more information about the race, click here.