Saving a former rhino habitat -- mountain bikers to the rescue


Words & Photo: Resolution Health and Zurreal

More than 1 200 rhinos have been mercilessly slayed in the past few years and now a second rhino crisis is looming, which threatens to destroy more of South Africa's precious heritage.

The Renosterveld region in the Western Cape -- literally translated to 'rhinoceros field'- is also in danger of becoming yet another page in a South African history book if conservation efforts to preserve the region are not drastically stepped up. Only 4% of the Renosterveld is left in South Africa and the region is fast dwindling taking with it a number of highly endangered species that call the area home.

What used to be a vast expanse of pristine unencumbered habitat stretching over large parts of South Africa is now in hundreds of scattered patches in the middle of the famous Cape Floral Kingdom. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the most famous of the world's six floral kingdoms and by far the smallest.

The reason for the Cape's extraordinary botanical richness is that South Africa's last ice age ended 200 million years ago; the Northern Hemisphere's Ice Age, that wiped out most of its vegetation, receded only 10 000 years ago. South Africa's plant life therefore evolved unhampered. This is why Europe has only two species of ericas (heath) and South Africa has more than 300. Some of these exist only in the Renosterveld. The area also has a variety of fynbos species such as proteas, ericas and various types of reeds (restios). Many flowers now cultivated throughout the world, such as amaryllis, hyacinth and orchids, originated in the Renosterveld.

The tall grey renosterbos (Elytropappus rinocerotis) flourishes throughout the region and was favoured by black rhinos in the pre-colonial era and therefore the region became known as the Renosterveld. Now there are no more black rhinos left grazing peacefully on the renosterbos and many other animal and plant species look set to meet the same fate if conservation efforts are not stepped up substantially.

Because the Renosterveld is one of the most vulnerable natural regions in the world and is also part of a designated World Heritage Site, South Africa as a nation, is internationally honour bound to conserve it. Conservationists and farmers have thus come together to form the Renosterveld Trust, which aims to promote conservation efforts in the region.

According to Justin Basson, founder of the Renosterveld Trust, most of the Cape's plant life has been wiped out by free-for-all cultivation and agriculture dating back to the 18th century such as wheat farming and vineyards. "The more of the Renosterveld that disappears the more we potentially lose useful medicinal and agricultural species. What's more, we are dependent on these natural systems for things like water management, erosion control and pollination. The Renosterveld Trust aims to find a balance between the commercial benefits of farming and conservation efforts," he says.

Because of the desperate plight of the Renosterveld as well as South Africa's rhinos, the Renosterveld Trust has partnered with Resolution Health Medical Scheme and financial services and wellbeing company Zurreal to promote a mountain bike race called 'Ride the Rhino'. "Mountain biking is fast becoming one of South Africa's most popular sports and the race is a perfect opportunity to show off the beauty of the Renosterveld and the importance of protecting it for future generations," says Basson. The Ride the Rhino is a 3-day stage race that will take place from 26 to 28 September in memory of all the rhinos poached last year, as well as many other endangered species whose habitat is under threat in the quickly receding Renosterveld.

The race will start at the Langebaan Country Estate, taking riders on a journey through the scenic West Coast National Park, along the rugged terrain of the Renosterveld in full spring bloom and ending at a beautiful wine estate in Durbanville. If riders are lucky enough, they might come across the geometric tortoise, Cape dwarf chameleon or Cape Fox, all of which are just as endangered, if not more so than the rhinos, on which mainstream conservation efforts tend to only focus.

A second 'Race the Rhino' mountain bike challenge will take place six days before the 'Ride the Rhino', on the day before World Rhino Day (21 September) in the Magaliesburg/Hartbeespoort area, giving Gauteng-based riders the opportunity to also take part.

According to Basson, while the rhino conservation efforts are vitally important, South Africans must not forget about the hundreds of other plant and animal species that are also in danger of becoming extinct and are often neglected in favour of protecting bigger and more popular flora and fauna. "The Renosterveld Trust, Resolution Health and Zurreal have pledged their support to the plight of the rhinos and their namesake, the Renosterveld. We need as much support as possible if we want to save this highly endangered World Heritage Site," he says.

NOTE: The Cape Floral Kingdom, of which the Renosterveld forms an essential part, is a mere 0.4 percent of the area covered by the world's six floral kingdoms. Yet it is uniquely rich in its variety of plants. While the Amazon basin (nine million square kilometres and eight to nine times larger than the whole of South Africa) has 850 species of plants the Cape Floral Kingdom has 9 600. Sixty percent are found nowhere else.

To enter the Ride or Race the Rhino or find out more information visit