Participants of the gruelling 340km uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge from Cadence Cycling Performance Centre in Hillcrest to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve’s Hilltop Camp on Saturday 10 December are set to provide a key funding source for Project Rhino KZN when the corporate world downs tools this festive season.
While many folk look forward to enjoying some down time and unwinding with friends and family in December, the work does not stop for the KwaZulu-Natal based anti-rhino poaching initiative and uBhejane Xtreme riders’ contributions provide a timely financial boost to Project Rhino KZN’s efforts.
“We’re hugely appreciative of everything that the uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge does to support our efforts at Project Rhino KZN, particularly during what can be quite a difficult time for us,” says Project Rhino KZN’s Grant Fowlds.
“Many businesses close at the end of the year and with that comes a drying up of some of our much needed financial resources over this period, this despite our efforts continuing 365 days a year.
“As such, having an event like the uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge – which takes place in December, when a lot of people have a bit more free time to involve themselves in a venture like this – is a huge help for us at Project Rhino KZN.”
Launched on World Rhino Day on 22 September 2011, Project Rhino KZN is an association of like-minded organisations facilitating rhino conservation interventions aimed at eliminating rhino poaching and securing the white and black rhino populations of KwaZulu-Natal.
Through its ‘Zero Tolerance to Rhino Poaching’ approach, Project Rhino KZN continues to work towards achieving its ultimate dream of seeing both White and Black rhino species thriving in KwaZulu-Natal and far beyond, forever free, forever secure from poaching, well managed and protected.
“During 2012, both the Western black rhino and Vietnamese population of Javan rhino were declared extinct, and there are only three Northern white rhino left in Africa,” explains Fowlds ominously.
“South Africa is now one of the last countries to have a significant population of rhinos left in the wild – one of the reasons why South Africa is bearing the brunt of what can be described as one of the worst global wildlife conservation crises of the past 100 years.
“Over 6000 rhinos have been killed within the country’s borders since the crisis began in 2008 and the ‘tipping point’ – in which more rhinos are being poached than are being born – is becoming an ever-increasing danger for South Africa’s white rhino and black rhino populations.
“If the poaching continues to escalate at the current rate, we could well see the demise of the rhino in major national parks with only small handfuls surviving in well protected areas. It could take decades for the populations to recover.”
Project Rhino KZN’s efforts assist some 32 game reserves – 24 Private and eight Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Game Reserves – including the uBhejane Xtreme’s finish destination, the iconic Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.
Funds such as those raised by participants of this year’s uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge, allows the organisation to continue its work which centres around five key pillars – rhino security, community engagement, youth education and awareness, legislation and lobbying as well as accountability and coordination.
“The Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing (ZAP-Wing) provides helicopter and fixed-wing aerial surveillance and reaction support to 25 game reserves as well as aerial support to law enforcement rhino security operations.
“We also provide ranger training, equipment and technology to KZN game reserves, rangers and Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) members as well as maintaining and supporting relationships and communications across game reserve and law enforcement boundaries.
“Our youth drives and community engagement programmes aim to increase conservation awareness and mobilize those in communities bordering game reserves, especially the youth, to speak out against the escalating poaching of rhino and other endangered species and global wildlife crime.
“One of the greatest needs to stop rhino poaching is to improve the level of successful arrests and prosecutions of poaching gangs and syndicate kingpins.
“Project Rhino KZN is therefore also assisting state-led law enforcement efforts by petitioning for greater Judicial and political support, particularly for the establishment of a dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crimes Court in KwaZulu-Natal.”
The 2016 uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge takes place from Hillcrest to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve on Saturday 10 December.