His honorific might be the PhD variety, rather than a medical one, but Andrew Venter’s work for South Africa’s natural world is not unlike a physician’s mission to cure disease.
As CEO of Wildlands Conservation Trust, Andrew is at the heart of the conservation cause. His organisation’s approach this topic, especially through their various outdoor endurance events, is innovative and, as I learned, hugely fun.
I experienced the Wildlands way during my recent participation in the annual Three Cranes Challenge in Karkloof. This is one of a handful of events Andrew and his team put on to raise funds for conservation. The passionate defender of our ecological assets explains how it all came about.
“In 2004 we inherited three of these events. It was all very new, but we found it an interesting model. It creates lots of noise and awareness around at-risk animals and environments, and that makes them harder to destroy. People like you and potential donors become aware of what we’re doing through our events.
“Soon we decided to test if we could do a few more. The iMfolozi MTB Challenge was one that has taken off brilliantly. And so the Wild Series was born.”
The successful outdoor endurance events all offer tremendous value. For Wildlands, the unique selling point seems to be a boutique approach, rather than the mass participation philosophy some employ.
“We found we were quite good at organising smaller field events in really beautiful areas. Our goal aim became really well run weekends that would be the ideal platform for engaging with important people. In about 2010 the Karkloof area was jumping at us partly because of the Ezemvelo. We wanted an event that would underwrite our work there and help with conservation.”
Enter the Three Cranes Challenge. Three days of trail running through this exceptional valley in the Midlands, largely in aid of three local Cranes: Blue, Wattled and Grey-Crowned.
“It has resonated from day one. 100 km of quite tough running, across beautiful country. The Three Cranes has grown very impressively since then. Over the last five years we have put about 300k into the Karkloof Conservancy.”
This year Andrew’s team were able to rustle up a donation of R80 000. He explains what this does.
“The money underwrites all the work the Conservancy does in this area. It supports their conservation centre, which is the entry point for people interested in what happens here. It also helps with their really important initiatives like, like educating local farm schools on wildlife and conservation.”
The future looks good, too.
“It is key that we have secured sponsorship from Old Mutual. You really need a big guy like that to be deeply involved. It has been excellent to see just how passionate they are about being a part of what we’re doing. I see them as a substantial part of our goal to become a household name like the Two Oceans in the next few years.”
Wildlands is also planning to add two new events to their calendar. They haven’t released details yet, but tell us there is a mountain biking event planned for the Marakele National Park, in the Waterberg Mountains, and a trail run at Maritzkop. Andrew has also teamed up with new race organisers and implemented an overall rebranding of the Wild Series, which means an appealing upgrade to their website.
#CountryRunner is also invited to attend Wild Series events whenever possible. So watch this space.