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For adrenalin junkies, Expedition Africa is a popular adventure race. For four passionate conservationists, it’s a chance to test their bush skills and promote outdoor recreation among fellow employees. Meet Team Ubhejane, meaning black rhino in Zulu.

Expedition Africa 2017, taking place 10-20 May in the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, is a multi-disciplinary multi-day adventure race. The race encourages participants to explore the beauty of the natural world on a very real level. And with very real we mean navigation of unmarked wilderness courses (no GPS or mobile technology allowed), trekking, mountain biking, paddling, climbing, caving and abseiling.

For Team Ubhejane the race is an opportunity to promote a healthy, outdoor lifestyle and wellness, specifically among SANParks employees. These dedicated environmentalists want to raise awareness about the world they work in and the challenges faced by conservation.

Wild chatted to one of Ubhejane’s team members and outdoor activity fanatic, Marilyn Zimmermann, to find out more.

Why did you decide to enter?

It started with my husband, Dr David Zimmermann, who is a veterinarian for SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services. Last year, he was involved in capturing Sylvester, the famous lion that had escaped from Karoo National Park. It was while they were out in the mountains searching for the big cat, mostly without any communication, that David came to a realisation. It’s important for rangers to not only have excellent tracking or navigational skills and fitness, but also to be comfortable with spending extended periods of time out in the wilderness.

Having done numerous outdoor activity events over the years, David was naturally drawn to the sport of adventure racing. We wanted to enter a team of SANParks rangers into Expedition Africa 2017 as we felt their working environment is similar to the conditions experienced in adventure racing.

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SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services and Addo rangers successfully relocate an elephant bull at Addo Elephant National Park. Pictures supplied by Marilyn Zimmermann

Who are the team members?

In October 2016, we approached two SANParks game capture assistants, Dan Leeuw and Ben Makoloi. Training kicked off with running as it’s the most affordable way to get fit. The team is firmly established with Dan, Ben, David and myself. David will be our team captain and navigator, Ben our technician, Dan our strongman and I am in charge of nutrition and motivation.

The race sounds really daunting…

Expedition Africa covers 514km over six days. This years’ expedition will take place in the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Teams will trek 138km, kayak 67km and cycle 309km through extremely remote areas and venture where few modern humans have set foot – journeying from the mountains to the sea. So far over 40 teams have entered from 10 different nationalities, so it’s a truly international event.

We want our adventure together to be memorable and continue to be life-changing.

Why take part?

We hope that our team members will become an inspiration and role models for their colleagues and the younger generation of conservationists from their respective communities. There are so many trail running and mountain biking events that take place in our national parks, but often rangers do not participate.

As this will be our first time participating in a multi-day adventure race, our approach will be very conservative. Our aim is to finish the race. We want our adventure together to be memorable and continue to be life-changing.

What sort of planning goes into preparing for such a race?

As adventure racing involves various disciplines, it comes with a big financial cost. We have been supported by a few very dedicated people and remain extremely grateful for their contributions – bicycles, running shoes, equipment and kayaks. One of the biggest challenges has been the entry fee of R40,000 per team of which the Wilderness Foundation has sponsored Dan and Ben’s portion. We are extremely excited about this support as their ethos is very much in line with our vision.

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Dave, Ben and Dan celebrating finding a check point on the Harkerville Trail in Garden Route National Park.

Any challenges?

During our January training for mountain biking and paddling, we faced our first hurdle – swimming competency. At that stage Ben and Dan were not able to swim 100m and tread water if necessary. Ebert Kleynhans, a paralympian, generously offered to teach the guys to swim at a reduced rate. Overcoming various fears like swimming, abseiling over a cliff, and jumping into a river at 02:00 in the morning have all been achieved.

What makes Team Ubhejane different from other teams?

For Ben and Dan this is the first time they have been exposed to this range of activities and they have both excelled. If we can inspire Ben and Dan, then they can inspire others. Our team name reflects our shared passion and commitment to conservation.

Coincidently, our capture team was instrumental in the re-introduction of black rhino into the Baviaanskloof, giving Expedition Africa 2017 a little more significance to us.

Live tracking

Follow Team Ubhejane’s progress with the event’s up-to-date live tracking! Also keep an eye on their Facebook page (or search for #expafrica) for the latest pictures and stories.

If anyone is interested in more information or supporting Team Ubhejane’s goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle and wellness among SANParks employees, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

*Featured picture: Dave, Ben, Dan and Marilyn