A team of South African and Zimbabwean adventurers has launched an ambitious project to become the first ever to attempt the rapids of the mighty Zambezi River on stand-up paddleboards. Apart from completing the first descent of the huge rapids on stand-up paddleboards, which are normally used on calm water or for surfing on ocean waves, the group also has another even more significant objective: to raise funds for the care and protection of orphaned baby rhinos in South Africa.
Experienced whitewater kayaker and team member Shane Raw said, “At the end of the day we could just do this for the bragging rights, but all of us feel strongly that it would be much more meaningful if it were to translate into real benefits for a deserving cause, and there are few causes more deserving than Care for Wild, a non-profit organisation whose primary focus is an orphanage for baby rhinos whose mothers have been brutally killed by rhino horn poachers.”
Rhino poaching has reached catastrophic levels in Africa driven by an unrelenting demand from Far Eastern countries such as Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea where it is still believed to have medicinal properties, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. More recently, and due to the skyrocketing black market value of rhino horn, unscrupulous businessmen have taken to investing in rhino horn for the purpose of speculative profits. This has resulted in a spike in the bloody illegal trade which continues to decimate Africa’s rhino population. Rhino are now regionally extinct in several countries in Africa and the remaining populations are being slaughtered at an alarming rate. In South Africa alone, which has been the stronghold for both black and white rhinos for many years, 3-4 rhinos are killed every single day for their horns, a rate at which, if unabated, would see rhinos completely extinct within the next decade.
Raw added, “The work that the good folks at Care for Wild do is really incredible, completely selfless and sometimes absolutely heart-breaking! Firstly to see the terrible state that some of the orphans are in by the time they get rescued from the scene of a poaching incident and just knowing what a traumatic experience they have been through, and secondly when after every conceivable effort and expense has been applied and one of the youngsters doesn’t make it. It really takes a special kind of person to dedicate their lives to saving these undeserving victims. We hope that the public from all walks of life will ‘stand up’ with us and get behind this cause, open their hearts and their wallets to support the work done at Care for Wild. Every single cent that we are able to raise will go directly to Care for Wild. We don’t want anything out of this other than to know that we were able to help in what will hopefully be a significant way.”
The team, consisting of Bertrand van der Berg, Philip Claassens, Leon Pieters and Shane Raw from South Africa as well as Paul Teasdale from Zimbabwe, also has other matters on their minds. The Zambezi River in the Batoka Gorge below Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) as it is known locally, is renowned for having the biggest commercially rafted whitewater rapids in the world. The rapids are massive and powerful and have a reputation of being able to flip fully loaded eight-man rafts like bottle caps and drag swimmers underwater for extended periods. Over the years there have been several accidents, injuries and even fatalities on this section of the Zambezi, so it is not to be taken lightly. However, the team members collectively have many decades of experience on dangerous whitewater rapids all around the world and plan to combine their skills and knowledge with a strict safety protocol to achieve the feat they have set out for themselves.
More information on the project and how to support it can be found at: www.standup4rhinos.org