Now in its ninth year, the 2023 Ride for Rhinos was a resounding success. Johan Fourie, Wilderness Namibia Land and Natural Resources Manager reports.

Wilderness and RMB this year were the co-title sponsors of the event, while Venture Media, as the organisers, and Cymot, as the cycling support, ran two back-to-back tours  (24 – 28 May, and 29 May – 2 June) for the first time in the event’s history.

Participants camped for three nights under the stars, followed by a night in the lap of luxury at Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp. We camped in a spectacular spot in the Achab River, about 15km west of Desert Rhino Camp, with amazing organ pipe-like rock formations in the basalt, and highly built-up calcrete conglomerate river banks.

The amazing landscapes and wild setting were truly spectacular to ride in, and the cyclists had a great deal of fun, and many wonderful new friendships were formed during the event.

This is one of the most scenic areas in north-western Namibia. We crossed dry riverbeds, and rock-strewn plains with spectacular views across varied areas.  There were some short steep climbs, some fairly technical areas to ride through, and fun downhill areas. We focused on cycling during the morning hours, followed by a nature drive in the afternoon.

The trails are made up of a mixture of jeep tracks, with suitable wildlife trails created by zebra, giraffe rhino and elephants used for sections of single track.

Each day’s ride had two options, where the cyclists could swing off at around 32 km or push on to around 48 km. The first day was probably the most challenging, as the route climbs up to the lovely wild ebony (Euclea pseudebemus) trees around a spring called Urunendes.

We were fortunate to view a rhino on both tours in this area. On one spectacular sighting, we went in on foot to view a rhino bull with the Save the Rhino Trust trackers. We all walked neatly in single file to view this rhino, when suddenly we saw another rhino approaching us – and the wind was not in our favour. We quickly started walking into a better position but the rhino realised something was out there. We spent a while just observing him trying to find out what was going on.

When we left and hiked back to the vehicles, we saw from a distance of about 1 km how these two rhino bulls came together in a spectacular territorial flight. The dust billowed and they kept going at it for about 15 minutes until the younger rhino backed off from the territorial bull.

The bicycles slept out on the first evening and we proceeded home in the vehicles.

On Day 2 we rode in a loop up to Phillips Spring viewpoint and headed down the Urunendes River. This was a spectacular ride along the hard river gravel, barrelling along the dry river bed, and we were lucky to view a few giraffes and rhino on this day on both Tours.

We all managed to survive for three days without mobile phones, email, WhatsApp, etc. and could focus purely on having fun, enjoying fireside chats and connecting to new friends and nature. We were fortunate that the weather also played along giving us cool to cold evenings and mornings, and pretty warm days without too much wind.

One evening a small pride of lions moved through our camp while we were sleeping. We heard them roaring in the distance and it sounded like they were getting closer to us. The next morning when it started getting light, we realised they had actually walked right through the camp and past the tents, only roaring when they were about 3 km away.

On the third day, we proceeded to ride from our base camp in a wide loop around Albitrunca Valley, where some of the most amazing shepherd trees in Namibia grow. We headed back in a loop to Desert Rhino Camp airstrip, where we had the only competitive cycling during the event.

We then rode back to the camp, where Gerhard had a lamb on the spit, we swam and were generally very spoilt by the creature comforts of Desert Rhino Camp.

This year on the second tour we had a few well-known people along.

Dan Craven – A former two-time Namibian Olympic cyclist who set up Onguza, his bike brand, building amazing handmade steel-frame bikes in Omaruru.

David Bishop – News editor for Feature media news, and a CITW Namibia board member.

Jan Braai – Well-known South African Chef and TV personality. P.S. The man can braai. Jan treated us each evening to a delightful entrée, the absolute highlight being the rack of lamb.

We also had a journalist from Getaway magazine participating, and she will have an article running in South Africa pretty soon.

The event aims to bring together members of various corporates, as well as individuals with Save the Rhino Trust. We also shared the CITW story this year, creating a platform for collaboration and future partnerships between the parties.

The Tour also provides a direct financial benefit to Save the Rhino Trust and Children in the Wilderness.

Despite an upsurge in rhino poaching in 2022 in Namibia, the area we visited has been incident free for several years.

At a time when many challenges confront biodiversity conservation in Namibia, the cycling adventure was fruitful and enriching. One of the major issues at present is the long-term ongoing drought in the north-west of Namibia.

The area remains a world-leading stronghold for black rhino conservation in areas outside national parks. Communities through the conservancies, NGOs like SRT, IRDNC and other vitally important partners and operators like Wilderness, play a significant role in looking after the iconic desert-adapted black rhino population and other iconic species.

In 2022 Namibia lost 87 rhinos to poaching, the highest number yet, but the ground-up approach to conservation in this area kept them safe here.

The challenges and approaches differ significantly between areas like national parks, privately owned game farms and communal areas. Where people share the space with rhinos, the financial value of rhino horn is a source of constant temptation for poachers.

There is a small collaborative group of people and corporate companies that drives the Ride for Rhinos event.

Elzanne McCullogh and Rieth Van Schalkwyk (Venture Media) came up with the concept for Ride for Rhino in December 2014, at a time when Namibia was enduring a period of bad rhino poaching.

Conrad Dempsey from RMB (at the time) got in touch with them and the event started taking shape. The current CEO of RMB, Phillip Chapman, has continued to support the event in full.

Wilderness jumped on board, with Gerhard Thirion and Johan Fourie providing the cycling and logistics.  A big thank you to Alexandra Margull for the sponsorship of bed nights and the logistical support of cars, equipment and staff from Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp.

Cymot provided essential skills and time, bringing in one of the best bicycle mechanics in the business – Martin Ngilifavali.

Cymot Chairman Axel Theisen joined the Tour for the eighth time in 2023.

This year Dr David Weber (Tour 1) and Dr Chris Spangenberg (Tour 2) joined us as the Tour Doctors.

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