A man with sheer determination and a passion for conservation. That is how you can describe Rob Le Brun, the man who ran 1,000km in 20 days and raised a whopping R57,000 in support of elephant conservation in Addo Elephant National Park.

Robert Le Brun has had a soft spot for South Africa’s wildlife since he can remember. He even studied nature conservation, but ended up pursuing a different career. Having always wanted to do a charity run for conservation, he finally decided to do something about it.

Robbie, as he introduces himself, emailed the organisers of the Addo Elephant Trail Run at the end of 2017 and informed them of his plan. He hoped that they would provide him with an entry for the 100-Miler trail run taking place in March 2018.

His audacious plan? To run all the way from Elephant’s Eye, a cave in the Silvermine section of Table Mountain National Park, to Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape and compete in the Addo Elephant Trail Run. The organisers happily obliged and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rob arriving at Addo main gate the afternoon before the 100-miler race It was a special moment realising how far he had travelled. Pictures supplied by Rob Le Brun

The long run

Rob started his cross-country journey at Elephant’s Eye and ran all the way to Stellenbosch on the first day. ”I essentially ran a marathon (42km) a day. The first few days are a little bit tougher, but the amazing thing is that as soon as you get your groove, it’s plain sailing. You just take it bit by bit,” he says about the initial stages.

Robert’s goal was to run on as many back roads, especially gravel, as possible. “I probably landed up running on about 35% of tar road and 75% on gravel roads and almost all was on public roads.”

From Stellenbosch the route took him to Villiersdorp, Robertson, Montagu, Van Wyksdorp,south of Oudtshoorn, De Rust, South of Willowmore, Steytlerville, Kirkwood and then Addo main camp.

“For me to run through pristine nature and unspoilt sections of this country and especially the national park was an enormous privilege. Our natural spaces are becoming fewer and fewer as the human population increases. It was very special running through vast spaces that have been relatively untouched.”

Rob running the backroads of the Eastern Cape just north of the Baviaanskloof, between Steytlerville and Kirkwood.

Support

“The most rewarding part was the support I had throughout the journey. The thing that stuck with me the most was a saying that a friend of mine always uses. ‘Leap and the net will catch you.’ I just committed to this journey and everything almost flawlessly fell into place. People from all over the country were constantly supporting me. You just have to give it a go and people will follow suit. Everyone is simply looking for inspiration and positive stories,” he says about all the support throughout this journey.

Rob with his parents and girlfriend. “They were absolute rocks in support of my journey. I am forever grateful for their sacrifice, even though I think they love supporting me.”

 

The finish line

Getting to Addo was quite a profound moment. When you do a run like this over an extended period of time, you slowly get further and further away from the starting point. And then you see Addo’s gate and realise ‘wow, I am finally here’.”

Of course, the Addo Elephant Trail Run was still waiting. Having run about 850km over 18 days, the very next day Rob laced up his shoes for the Addo 100-Miler and finished it in about 28,5 hours.

Rob hugging his girlfriend and number one supporter, Lize-Marie, at the finish line of the Addo 100-Miler at the Zuurberg Mountain Village in Addo Elephant National Park. Picture courtesy of Robert Le Brun

Running in parks

The Addo 100-Miler was not Rob’s first run in a national park – and it definitely won’t be his last. “I have been lucky enough to work with the trail running industry as an events manager. So I got to run in Mapungubwe National Park as part of the Mapungubwe Wildrun. It was pretty special to run in parts where you are surrounded by the most amazing vistas and wildlife,” Rob recalls.

Running for Addo ellies

Although he didn’t start his long run with a specific charity in mind, Rob knew from the beginning that the funds collected would be going to conservation. And he was very clear about that.

“It wasn’t till about two weeks into the run that I got a phone call from one of the event organisers. I learnt they would be relocating Addo elephants from the main game area to the Darlington section of the park. The funds raised could be used to purchase a satellite collar for one of these elephants. I decided immediately that the money was going to Addo’s ellies,” he explains.

Willie Engelbrecht, member of SANParks Honorary Rangers National Executive, said they were delighted with Rob’s donation to the Boland region. The money will be spent on a satellite collar for the matriarch of the family of 27 elephants recently transferred to the Darlington Dam part of Addo.

Rob hands over the cheque to Norman Johnson, SANParks Regional Manager of the Cape, and Willie Engelbrecht of the SANParks Honorary Rangers.

“There are two primary reasons for the relocation,” Willie explains. “The one is to enhance the biodiversity of the elephant genetic pool. SANParks have relocated cows to Darlington and will be bringing bulls from other parts to start a new gene pool. The second reason for the relocation is to reduce the risk of poaching. It’s a new area, it’s further away and it’s more lush around Darlington Dam. The reason why SANParks need the collars is because you can’t reach the elephants on foot. By tracking them via satellite we can see their movements and their foraging patterns.”

What is the message that Rob wants to share with the public through his run? “Just be mindful of what you do on a daily basis to try and preserve what we have.”