Lions Benefit from The Bike4Beasts MTB Challenge

The fourth Bike4Beasts MTB Challenge took place in the De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve on April 25 this year.

75 mountain bikers had lined up to promote awareness of the region's natural wonders, promote eco-tourism and raise funds for the conservation activities of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Participants were also given a rare opportunity to take part in a 31 km Fun Ride in the neighbouring Mapungubwe National Park. Race organisers, Lycaon Logistics, were thrilled with the success of the event.

Since inception, the Bike4Beasts MTB Challenge has raised almost R200 000 for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The proceeds of this year's race will go directly to the EWT's Carnivore Conservation Programme (EWT-CCP), which has several carnivore conservation projects across southern Africa covering species such as cheetah, leopards, wild dogs and lions.

Each year, a different threatened species is chosen as the mascot for the Bike4Beasts MTB Challenge. In 2007 the mascot was the black rhino, in 2008, the Endangered African wild dog and in 2009 it was the cheetah. This year the lion, Panthera leo, which is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) moved into the spotlight.

Lions are Africa's top predators. Recent studies have estimated the total number of lions in Africa to be between 16 500 and 47 000. Lions have not roamed freely in most of South Africa since the early 1900s, but are now only found in large protected areas such as the Kruger National Park and in small game reserves where they have been reintroduced.

Today, approximately just over 500 Lions occur in 40 game reserves in South Africa, another 1 600 in the Kruger National Park and just over 100 are estimated to live in the South African part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Lion populations are threatened by human-wildlife conflict and the lack of any populations of lions outside of protected areas means that most of the smaller populations have to be artificially managed to maintain their viability.

The Bike4Beasts MTB Challenge route winds for 65 km through the heart of the De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (VLNR), situated in the Limpopo Province, just south of the international boundary between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe and adjacent to the Mapungubwe National Park. It follows existing vehicle dirt tracks to minimise the environmental impact on the undulating and varied terrain, through some of the most stunning and archaeologically rich scenery in the region. The landscape is predominantly Mopane veld with dottings of baobab trees.

The terrain is sandy, with rocky kopjes and riverine sections providing interest. The reserve forms part of the Diamond Route, a national project which focuses on linking the conservation properties of the Oppenheimer family and De Beers.

The winner of the 2010 Bike4Beasts men's challenge was Renier Bellingan with a time of 02.28.57, setting a new course record on this newly designed course. Bernard Bronkhorst finished in second place, with Graham Crystal, also the first junior rider home, finishing in third. The winning lady and the defender of last year's challenge was Kerry Baytopp, with a time of 03.48.49. Michelle Boot took second place and Susan Miller came in third. The winning team was Barloworld Equipment.

In addition to sponsorship from Barloworld Equipment and African Explosives Limited, the organisers would like to thank De Beers Consolidated Mines, Powerade, Global Communications, Exxaro, the Diamond Route, and South African National Parks. Special thanks go to UHN Potatoes for donating the use of the helicopter and the Off-Road Rescue Unit for providing logistical support and ensuring the riders' safety.

Great Time also provided the timing and results. Special thanks go to all of the volunteers who made the day such a success; Nature Conservation Society, the Land Rover Owners Club, staff from the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Global Vision International, and local community stalls.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari