Underberg – The third edition of the Rhino Peak Challenge will take place on World Rhino Day on 22 September and will see a number of elite ultra-trail athletes and people of influence take on the Rhino Peak in the Southern Drakensberg to raise funds for endangered species.

The 2016 edition of the event was unprecedented as the event raised R290 000 for rhino conservation as well as the protection of the Bearded Vulture, which is native to the Southern Drakensberg.

With 12 elite runners taking on the challenge together with 12 “people of influence”, including 2016 champion and current FKT (fastest known time) holder Rory Scheffer the 2017 edition has attracted some big names in South African sport.

Included in the list of influential people is 2007 Rugby World Cup winning captain John Smit. Smit’s target is to complete the trip in 400 minutes and should he finish inside that time then whatever the amount that is pledged towards him is multiplied by the number of minutes he finishes under his goal time (capped at 30 minutes).

The event will also attract two of KwaZulu-Natal’s top river marathon paddlers. K2 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon winner Sbonelo Khwela will take on the Rhino Peak Challenge and with a strong running background Khwela is hoping to complete the run in 210 minutes.

Having just won his tenth ICF Canoe Marathon World Championship title in Pietermaritzburg eight days ago, Hank McGregor will also be lining up to tackle the Rhino Peak with his wife Pippa at his side.

The race will also include a significant number of conservationists, some who are directly involved in the conservation of rhinos and Bearded Vultures and some tireless champions of wildlife conservation.

The likes of long-term conservationist Jacques Flamand who has travelled the world running research centres and currently heads up a black rhino expansion project with KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife.

Flamand has worked as a wildlife veterinarian in the Kruger Park and the Natal Parks Board, was Director of two wildlife research centres in Saudi Arabia, and was Veterinary Adviser in Chitwan National Park in Nepal.

Joining him on the outing will be fellow environmentalists Dennis Kelly, Zama Ncube, Shane Raw and Sonja Krüger.

Kelly, Raw and Ncube are heavily involved in the conservation of rhino in KwaZulu-Natal. Kelly is a section manager in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park where he has worked for over 10 years. He manages the Makhamisa Section of iMfolozi.

Ncube’s involvement in conservation of rhinos began over ten years ago when he became a rhino tracker. He continues to be involved in the tracking and monitoring of rhino but also heads up community conservation programmes.

Here he tries to pass on knowledge to the youth of the importance of environmental maintenance as well as the importance of game reserves.

Raw’s love of wildlife stems from his love for the outdoors. Being a professional whitewater kayaker he spends the majority of his time outdoors on some of the biggest rivers in the world.

He was also involved in a successful private conservation organisation in Swaziland for nearly 20 years where he experienced the horror of rhino poaching which influenced him to take up the challenge of helping to protect wildlife.

Raw developed the #StandUp4Rhinos initiative and has raised over R100 000 for the plight of the species and this fulfilling experience has motivated him to do more to save this embattled mammal.

The events name suggests that the main focus is on rhinos, however the Bearded Vulture is another animal that is put in the spotlight by the event and Sonja Krüger, who initiated the Maloti-Drakensberg vulture Project in 2000, will be back for the second year in succession.

For the past 15+ years, she has been driving processes aimed at reducing the population decline, stabilizing the population and growing numbers to achieve 150 breeding pairs of Bearded Vultures in Southern Africa.

The home of Rhino Peak within the Maloti Drakensberg Mountains is also the home of the only population of Bearded Vulture in the Southern Hemisphere.

The species is critically endangered with a high probability of extinction within the next 50 years if measures to reduce mortality rates, increase productivity and supplement the population are not put in place.

To pledge for any of the participants head to the pledge page here – http://www.rhinopeakchallenge.co.za/participants/?yearopt=2017

For more information, visit www.rhinopeakchallenge.co.za.