Last year the world changed. Our daily lives were thrown out of routine and we were presented with a situation that forced us to look at all funding opportunities. The Wildlife College is still only able to operate at 50% of its training capacity given the need for social distancing both in the classrooms and accommodation units, which has certainly forced us to think “out of the box”.

Our CEO Theresa is an avid (and slightly obsessed) runner. Following Tusk Trust’s Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon and Run, together with the fun had during the Tusk Trust Wildlife Ranger Challenge last year, this sparked an idea. Theresa then chatted to her sister, who belongs to a running club in Johannesburg. Sure that the runners in her club would LOVE to come run out in the wilderness, she asked if the SAWC could host them or arrange an event for them.

Of course one doesn’t simply run through a contractual National Park. The idea of it is great, but there are many aspects to arranging such an event but, true to form, Theresa was going to make this work and what a great way to showcase the Southern African Wildlife College.

After plenty of meetings we were granted permission to hold the event, and all contributions would go to our counter poaching K9 unit’s ‘running costs’. The idea was also supported by the incredible goodwill of our sponsors who helped with event collateral and the stocking of goodie bags for the runners.

On 24 April, being a long weekend, the runners all drove up from Johannesburg. They would spend three nights on our campus. Each couple shared a fixed structure tent on the fence line where they woke up as the sun rose over the acacia woodland, with the impala safely congregated against the campus’ fence line. All of their meals were made by our on-site hospitality staff and the food was delicious. The run held on Sunday morning was definitely a highlight for everyone but, going the extra mile, we added a K9 demonstration, an obstacle course with our Field ranger trainees, a game drive with the highlight being the gorgeous dinner out in the bush where we sat in the shadow of an old False Marula tree as the full moon rose behind it. Additionally, one of the surprises was the raffle for a short flip in the Savannah Light Sports Aircraft to experience the park from the air, which is always an absolute privilege.

The run itself was a pure joy. Each runner (or walker) could choose either 10 or 21 kilometres. Every participant made it back to the finish line unscathed with help from the Kruger National Park’s section ranger and his field rangers, as well as support from our very own Protected Area Integrity unit, who were placed every two kilometres along the way. Other staff also jumped in to hand out water and cheer the runners along the way.

For the runners this was paradise. You can do no better than to run through the bushveld without the worry of trucks rushing past you and the silence offered through the stretches of open grasslands where you can watch zebra’s and wildebeest feed as you pass on by.

We saw many of the runners stop at certain points and ‘take it all in’ (Running to beat their best time was in fact the least of their concerns).

Since this pilot run was such a winner, we look forward to sharing our work up close and personally with more donor groups in the future.

A BIG thanks to the Bedfordview Athletics club for trusting us to host and care for them.

It truly was a wonderful weekend sparked by an idea and created through the need to ‘think of out of the box’, something that we have all had to do in the last year. Finding new ways to bring in funding, new ways to help each other and certainly also finding a way to do what gives one joy thereby truly living life fully.

It’s been agreed that we should all start using the word ‘PLANdemic’ proudly, since we have all had to put planning in place to overcome the challenges whilst changing our lives for the better too.

Our heartfelt thank is extended to all our sponsors who made the run possible, including:

  • Pam Golding – Hoedspruit:  Sports running shirts and the set up with their gantry and bunting 
  • WWF-SA:  Various gifts from including handmade fabric bags, copper reusable straws 
  • Peace Parks Foundation: Buffs
  • Oasis: Goodie bags (made from recycled bottles) and bottled water along with the use of their awning and banners
  • Hoedspruit Medical Rescue: Medical rescue support
  • Hoedspruit Steel – Chris Hanekom: Celebratory drinks 
  • Nitralife: Cash donation to help cover the costs of the day and prizes for the winners of the run
  • NCN Core Manufacturers: Cash donation to help cover the costs of the day and prizes for the winners of the run.