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The wild and rugged terrain of the Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi MTB grueling 55km route over the weekend. Photo credit: Em Gatland.

Ideal weather conditions – vastly different to last year’s torrential downpour – saw riders burning up the course through the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and shaving more than an hour off the 2015 winning time.

Meintjies and Schuit finished in 02h32, a whopping 01h18 faster than last year’s winning time.

Third place went to Michael Montgomery in 02h43.

The women’s race was won by Elaine Carter-Brown in 03h21, with Jenni Soutar second in 03h41 and Sophia Rollo third in 03h43.

The conditions on the ride were overcast and a bit windy, with the rain holding off until the event was finished and only sprinkling during the prize-giving. As always, the annual race’s biggest winner was conservation, with the 300 riders contributing to saving the critically endangered African Wild Dog.

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KZN Ezemvelo field ranger on route looking after the riders’ safety at the 2016 Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi MTB Challenge. Photo credit: Em Gatland.

The race’s long term legacy is the sustainability of the park and the animals that roam in it. The beauty and diversity of South Africa’s flora and fauna is one of our country’s greatest assets, and we should all help conserve it.

“With funds raised through the iMfolozi Challenge, the rangers canensure more effective behaviour-based management and rapid response around any illegal activity, incidents or threats to wildlife,” from the rangers,” said Dr. Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands.

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Riders pushing through the sandy White iMfolozi river crossing at the 9.4km mark of the 55km Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi MTB over the weekend. Photo credit: Em Gatland.

The race route takes riders through spectacular scenery and also gives them the experience of seeing game up close and personal. The park is home to the Big 5 and this year some of the riders had to make way for a herd of elephants.

“Few things are as thrilling as being within arm’s length of a wild animal, especially one of the Big 5,” says race organiser Stu Berry.

Venter also managed to raise a further R67 000 from participants during a spontaneous bid to increase iMfolozi’s capacity, Management and Maintenance to protect the precious wildlife that inhabit the reserve.

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Rider takes a fall along the challenging 55km route over the weekend at the Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi Challenge. Photo credit: Em Gatland.

Stihl, keeping with the spirit of donations, also handed over R20 000 worth of equipment as well as training (to use the equipment effectively) to the Impi Foundation, and will be used by the Hluhluwe iMfolozi field rangers that work day and night to protect our heritage.

“Wildlands would like to thank the dedicated Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff, Honorary Officers, the event organisers - Impi Concept Events, Old Mutual, Mondi, Stihl, Timefreight, Sunday Tribune and Powerade,” says Venter. “And last but definitely not least, the riders that make this event a soldout success year after year.”

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Photo credit: Em Gatland.

If you would like to participate in one of the unique Old Mutual Wild Series events, visit www.wildseries.co.za for more information.