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Photo Credit: Em Gatland

On July 23 the 55km route will take about 300 mountain bikers through the beautiful and celebrated Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

It’s a route made more exciting by the element of unpredictability: in a previous year riders had to be re-directed when a herd of buffalo settled in on the trail. The area is, in fact, home to all the members of the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, as well as the endangered African wild dog.

Money raised by the Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi Challenge will support the Wildlands Conservation Trust’s pledge to save the wild dogs of iMfolozi.

“Old Mutual is committed to motivating and helping community-minded South Africans to raise funds for causes close to all our hearts, including conservation,” says Old Mutual Head of Brand, Karen Thomas. “Our sponsorships as well as our ‘More than Yourself’ campaign focus on preparing for a better, stronger future.”

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Photo Credit: Em Gatland

There are fewer than 5 000 wild dogs left in the African wild today, and not much more than 400 in South Africa, in two protected areas, the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi reserve.

The wild dogs do not survive in agricultural environments because they hunt livestock and are also vulnerable to snares set by hunters.

“Also linked to ‘More than Yourself’ is the fact that a team of volunteers - the iMfolozi Honorary Officers – play a central role in helping maintain the reserve and staging the event,” points out Thomas.

The Honorary Officers are drawn from all walks of life and include electricians, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, engineers, a pilot, a chef, accountants, teachers, doctors, nurses and retirees.

For most of the year they help the reserve’s permanent staff with tasks ranging from repairing pumps to installing electricity and solar power for the camps, hides, boreholes and river pumps. Maintenance is one of their key contributions and they also help repair the reserve’s tractors and other vehicles.

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Photo Credit: Em Gatland

About 75 Officers volunteer to work for one or more weekends a month. During the iMfolozi Challenge armed Honorary Officers work together with permanent staff guards to protect the riders and marshals.

Before the event they set up the race village, fence off the campsite, put up showers and temporary power lights as well as route electricity to the main tent and finish.

They man 25 marshal points, three water tables and two river crossings as well as supplying race doctors and riding motor bikes for the television crews and photographers.

Teams at the campsite prepare fires in steel boilers for hot water showers, run the drinks and coffee stand and co-ordinate radio and telephone control for the event.

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Photo Credit: Em Gatland

On the Sunday after the event they take it all down and the natural order is restored.

“The Honorary Officers epitomise the spirit of ‘More than Yourself’,” says Thomas. “They are people who give of their own valuable time to ensure that a precious and unique part of our country is kept in pristine condition.”

“Interestingly, doing what they do takes the same single-minded focus, determination and self-discipline as does reaching your goals in a mountain-bike race,” she adds. “And the challenges are as tough and demanding.”

The iMfolozi Challenge is one of five Old Mutual Wild Series events. The others, all trail runs, are the Golden Gate Challenge, the Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, the Kruger2Canyon Challenge and the Three Cranes Challenge.

* For more information on More than Yourself go to http://morethanyourself.co.za and on the Old Mutual Wild Series go to http://www.wildseries.co.za