On Sunday 12th March 2017, among 35,000 avid cyclists, set to take on the 109km Cape Town Cycle Tour, was The Cycle of Life team.
112 people poised to cycle for a purpose – raising funds to #HelpusHelpOurRhinos.
And I, was poised to write. To tell their story.
Mother Nature however, as she so often does, had her own ideas, and due to winds exceeding 100km/hour, for the first time in its 40 year history, the cycle tour was cancelled. I put my pen down, and held my breath a little. However, the funds continued to flow in, promised sponsorships were not revoked. The cycle event had ceased to be, but the plight of the rhinos had not, and the spirit of generosity lived on.
Almost R 1M Rand was raised, under the banner of #HelpusHelpourRhinos. The rhinos being a cause very close to the hearts of Simone, Rene and Faye, who run The Cycle of Life tour company, offering bespoke ‘bucket list’ experiences in Africa, and have close emotional connections to Munyawana Conservancy in KwaZulu Natal South Africa, where andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve lies.
Since 2014, The Cycle of Life has been raising funds through the epic Cape Town Cycle Tour in the name of protecting endangered rhinos for the joy of generations to come. While poaching, on the whole, is in decline in South Africa, (according to statistics released by South African Department of Environmental Affairs), in 2016, 1054 rhinos were lost as a result of poaching activity.
Funds raised through The Cycle of Life enable a holistic approach to be taken to protect rhinos, allowing conservationists and reserve managers at Munyawana, the opportunity to tackle the issue on all fronts. Increased security around the reserve is a necessary precaution, and takes the form of fencing, which needs to be regularly checked and maintained, and new cameras which have been installed at the 4 park gates. Increasing security staff, including supplying them with uniform and radio devices, provides greater coverage on the ground.
Dehorning is also seen as the necessary evil of saving the rhino and through The Cycle of Life funds, a number of white and black rhino within andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve have had their horns removed. The horn, made of keratin – the protein found in nails and hair, grows back making dehorning an ongoing process. Approximately 18 months after the initial dehorning it is time for the rhino to have a trim. Which is easy to say, but no mean feat to do, involving helicopters to locate the rhinos that roam free in the 28,600 ha reserve, a vet and team of reserve staff to assist in the operation.
Tracking rhino isn’t only restricted to seeking out those in need of dehorning and The Cycle of Life sponsorship has enabled staff to be employed to run a daily tracking system; as simple as driving sections of the reserve daily and using sight and instinct, to monitor the rhinos whereabouts and well-being. Unique ID tags enable the recording of sightings, along with any indicators of injury, distress or illness. In addition to this, a fixed wing plane is used to circle above the reserve on a weekly basis, providing the advantage of an aerial view of the rhinos and surrounding habitat.
When new black rhino were introduced to the reserve earlier in 2017, The Cycle of Life funds enabled the purchase of foot collars. These devices allowed an initial continuous monitoring of the rhinos, generating comprehensive reports on their movements, so that the team could ensure the rhinos settled into their new environment.
Recently, a female rhino with calf, was spotted by the trackers having difficulty walking, in a location which was lacking in adequate food and water supply. Over the following days of observation it became apparent that her injury was preventing the two rhinos from making any progress and the lack of sustenance in their immediate vicinity was going to prove detrimental. Decisions to intervene are complex for conservationists, but to facilitate, the vet was called to make an assessment of the foot. The beauty of the money from The Cycle of Life, is that when unexpected costs such as this arise, funds are available to respond. The vet used high-tech equipment to X-Ray the rhinos foot, right there in the bush. A dislocated toe was discovered – probably the result of a high impact collision with a sharp object while running at speed. An unusual injury, and one made worse by a subsequent infection in the foot, which likely entered where the nail had split with the injury. It was obviously immensely painful for this 1.5 tonne gentle giant.
The decision was made to relocate the rhino and her calf to an area in the reserve richer in food and water supply, and where they could be more easily monitored by the tracking team. Treatment for her infection was also to be administered.
Not long after their relocation, it came to light that the Phinda reserve team had not rescued two, but three rhinos, as the injured rhino has in fact been pregnant, and delivered her second calf.
The vet and team have been visiting this family every 7 – 10 days now for the past 3 months, and treatment on the foot continues, with thanks in part to the support of The Cycle of Life, and the generosity of all those who got on their bikes, and trained hard to achieve a personal goal, and despite not being able to complete the race continued to support the cause.
Funds generated have also enabled collaboration with Zululand Rhino Orphanage, where young rhinos are cared for and prepared for a return to the wild, after incidences of poaching leave them orphaned. In the same manner as at Munyawana Conservancy, funds are allocated to a number of activities at the Orphanage, including dehorning, vet fees, food and medical supplies.
The Cycle of Life are busy again building up their team for the 2018 race, on March 11th, and would welcome new members to come on board. With great team spirit, training sessions take place all over South Africa, and in fact the world, and team members become friends through their passion for cycling, outdoors and conservation of beautiful reserves and rhinos.
To join the team and help to continue to raise the funds that keep these vital and sometimes unpredictable initiatives going check out The Cycle of Life website here. To support the team click here.
And, thank you once more, to all the cyclists and donors of 2017, for the real impact that you are having to #HelpusHelpourRhinos!