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Developing Ranger Wellness through Expedition Africa

15 Aug 2017 #conservation 0
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Wilderness Foundation Africa recently supported the SANParks/ Team Ubhejane (meaning black rhino in Zulu) to take part in Expedition Africa 2017, as part of our Ranger Wellness programme. Wellness encompasses a wide range of physical and mental factors that enables individuals to remain fit and motivated and in a position to reach their full potential personally and professionally.

Expedition Africa was both a life changing and inspiring experience for the team who took part in the race. It included a 10 day adventure race taking place in the Baviaanskloof this year. The event covered 500 km, involving a number of disciplines including mountain biking, canoeing, hiking and swimming from 10 – 20 May 2017. While a high degree of fitness was required, the event also demanded that participants were able to navigate under challenging conditions during the day and at night.

We caught up with Team Ubhejane team members to hear about their experience.

David and Marilyn

An incredible story written by Dr David Zimmerman, SANParks Wildlife Vet and Team Ubejane Expedition Africa Team Leader about the experience he had on Expedition Africa 2017.

“It is over two weeks since Expedition Africa 2017 and I am still waking up in the middle of the night dreaming about the event. What is it that made such a deep impression on me? Why do I feel so emotional when I think about it? These are the questions that are going through my mind and struggling to tease out the answers.

We set out with the knowledge that it was going to be a challenge – four novices to adventure racing, two of which that had never done any long endurance events, had hardly paddled before and limited swimming skills. Our approach was to enjoy the journey, at the same time create awareness of conservation issues close to our hearts and try promoting a healthy outdoor lifestyle amongst fellow colleagues – with the aim of crossing the line as a team. The challenges we overcame and goal we achieved – but what caught me by surprise was the intense spirituality of the journey.

I could write a book to tell the story – the fear of capsizing with novice paddlers on the dam, the shock of finding out one of our team had left behind their sleeping bag, running shoes in the wrong box resulting in the Koega canyon being hiked in cycling shoes, sleeping under the stars with a fire for warmth and security, the joy of finding the OK Minimart open at 5h00 in the morning in Patensie, the luminescence of fish swimming alongside the kayaks in Gamtoos River late at night, the freezing cold crossing the mouth in the early hours of the morning. So many stories!

The night before the race we heard about 12 rhino that had been slaughtered in Hluhluwe/Umfolosi Game Reserve and our thoughts went out to our fellow rangers and to one of our main sponsors, Wilderness Foundation Africa which was established in 1972 by Dr Player, founder of the Dusi Canoe Marathon and leader of the team that saved the white rhino from extinction in the 1960’s. Wilderness Foundation Africa continues today, working against wildlife crime and combating the rhino poaching. They were also instrumental in the establishment of the Baviaanskloof as a world heritage site – a privilege we all experienced.

I struggle with this one – but while sitting on the dune above CP47 waiting for the rest of our extended team to catch-up – I sensed a presence. Maybe it was the sleep monsters playing with my mind - but in my mind Ian Player was there connecting Man to Man, Man to the Environment, Man to God (however one perceives god ) – the three pillars of Wilderness Foundation Africa.

It was with sadness I looked across the bay to Thyspunt realizing that potentially one day soon there may be a nuclear power-station – along with all the lights and man-made infrastructure. There is a gradual attrition of peoples’ expectations of what the natural world around us should look like, with each generation growing up within a slightly more impoverished natural biodiversity - we are slowly losing the vision of what it used to look like.

The day was spent walking the coastline between Oyster Bay and Cape St Francis – via Thyspunt – an opportunity that one may never have again.

It has since dawned upon me why Expedition Africa 2017 has affected me so profoundly - it is being confronted with the raw spirituality of the wilderness experience, the deep bonds of comradeship (both within the team and between teams) and connectivity to the world we pass through – “what a source of lifetime stories, jokes, laughter, and disappointments, that flow from it all.”

Ben and Dan

The aim of Team Ubhejane was to raise conservation awareness, enjoying the most amazing environment along the way. By participating in this event as a novice team was a challenge that all four team mates took on.

Dan Leeuw and Ben Makoloi from Sanparks Veterinary Wildlife Services based in Kimberley, were part of team Ubhejane, sponsored by Wilderness Foundation Africa, who tackled the adventure race in the Baviaanskloof this year. Ben and Dan faired remarkably well in this event. Taking the challenge on to learn to swim 100m successfully is an achievement on its own.

Dan answered a few questions on how he perceived the race and all the training involved to get to the event.

1. What was the hardest part of Expedition Africa.

For me the hardest part was the paddling and the swimming, we knew that part was going to be tough and that we may struggle.

2. What was the best part of Expedition Africa.

The best part for me was meeting different teams and how they motivated us to keep going, to not give up and that we were doing well.

3. What was your favourite place you slept on Expedition Africa (considering that sleep was minimal and often opportunistic...somewhere on the side of the road).

For me the night we had to sleep in the Kouga gorge as there was a blackout where teams were not allowed to move between 6:30-6:45 the next day. We slept next to the river with a big fire to keep us warm, I have never experienced anything like that before.

4. What did you learn from Expedition Africa.

I learnt that everything is possible and nothing comes cheap, you have to do your best in everything that you do.

5. What are your thoughts on participating in another Expedition Africa, is it possible, do you think it can be done and how.

I would love to do another EA, with a well trained team, the right equipment, team spirit and taking forward the knowledge I have learnt in this race.

Ben and Dan are now inspiring their colleagues and local communities wherever they go.

From the Expedition Africa Team

“Thank you so much again for the support. Without Wilderness Foundation Africa it would have been a lot harder to fund this journey. I still feel that this interplay between conservation, adventure racing and wellness can create changes in mindsets within the ranger core.”

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