Biodiversity, Community, Conservation, General, Mozambique, Mozambique Community Development, Partnerships, Rhino Protection Programme, Wildlife Crime

Unleashing the Wild: Colette’s Ultra AFRICA Race

‘Running for your life’ has a different meaning for Colette Terblanche, Peace Parks’ Combatting Wildlife Crime Project Manager and freshly victorious Ultra AFRICA Race participant. She recently completed this immense 220 km feat through southern Mozambique, over five days, in intense heat on gritty, sandy trails.

The entire experience was incredible. I always expected it to be hard going, but there was close to 150 km of loose sand. It was very tough – the stuff of blisters and blue toenails – but I’m always fascinated that when your body says no, your mind can override it.

Colette Terblanche, Combatting Wildlife Crime Project Manager at Peace Parks

What could possibly have inspired her to take on such a gruelling endurance event – particularly when, in the daily fight against wildlife crime, she faces constant and monumental trials? Her passion for nature, love of a good challenge and her sense of responsibility to conserving our planet hold the answer. 

Simple scenic pleasures meet complex challenges: Colette embraced nature and adversity in equal measures on the run. She had five days to reflect on her love of both, and the crucial parts they play in her daily work combating wildlife crime.

Perspective and Purpose 

There are simple joys to be found in running through stunning Mozambique –  groves of coconut trees, glistening lakes and sweeping dunes, rolling wildly down to pristine beaches and the Indian Ocean. With the race route passing through bustling local villages, an insight into community life here also speaks to the simplicity of existence. “They might not have much, in terms of material wealth, but people always wanted to share what they had,” she says. “The sense of community was also resonant; children played together and walked to school without any safety concerns.”

But Colette has a more profound perspective on these experiences, distilled by five days of reflection on the run. She thrives on total immersion in, and deep appreciation of, wilderness and the people dependent upon it. For her, this speaks volumes about the worth of preserving everything that nature has to offer, for a future upon which communities – local to global – can count.   

The race draws clear parallels with Colette’s responsibilities at Peace Parks. “My work is to combat wildlife crime in protected areas of southern Africa, with a focus on using technology,” she explains. “This is a challenging environment which requires us to come up with new solutions and technology to counter the rhino poaching surge and other wildlife crime. This cannot be done without the support to communities around protected areas, in which Peace Parks plays a crucial role.” 

Colette assists with rhino-wrangling in a recent landmark rewilding initiative to reintroduce rhino to Mozambique, where her role was to manage the application of tracking technology. She is relentlessly passionate about combating wildlife crime; it demands energy and tenacity in the face of constant challenges. She likens it to being put through her paces on the run – but on a far more overwhelming scale.

Tenacity and Teamwork

No aspect of facing the realities of wildlife crime is easy; it is a constantly stressful environment, engaging with people who are on the frontline of fighting conservation crises.

You have to help, to strategise, and you can’t give up. It’s heart-breaking coming across an orphaned rhino lying next to its dead mother or discovering that a plan implemented didn’t work and the poaching has escalated again. You have to get up, rethink your way forward and start again. We at Peace Parks, and all the organisations fighting wildlife crime, cannot stop – it’s simply not an option. There are also bittersweet moments when Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas Maputo Airport K9 Unit, which Peace Parks supports with the African Wildlife Foundation, is successful in finding ivory or rhino horn, or when poachers are successfully prosecuted.

She emphasises that the difference between an attainable and an impossible goal lies in vital support. “Without the incredible back-up from Canal Aventure along the Ultra route, completing the race would’ve been almost unthinkable,” she reflects. Drawing a comparison to her work, she is eternally grateful to the generous donors who back Peace Parks, helping objectives to be achieved. “Successfully combating wildlife crime is also a race against time of a kind, with various stakeholders working together – financial, technical, strategic. It’s only through ongoing, coordinated efforts, partnerships, and teamwork that, hopefully in my lifetime, there will be a change for the better to fight wildlife crime in southern Africa.”

Colette firmly believes that, to maintain this dedication to the cause, spending time amongst the landscapes and communities where Peace Parks operates is vital. Long hours, office-bound, spent confronting planning and project management, are exhausting.

If you don’t get out in the field from time to time, you can easily lose touch with the problems in the field. To reevaluate priorities and align projects with the reality, it’s crucial to get out there – to speak to the people on the ground, since communication and finding solutions that work for them is key to a successful project.

An Inspired Future 

With a quarter of the country declared conservation areas, Mozambique is heavily committed to protecting its precious natural assets for generations to come. Operating, as well as running, on the ground here has been a privilege and a strong motivation for Colette. She wants to spread the word about this vibrant, biodiverse country making remarkable progress thanks to the government’s hands-on conservation approach and willingness to work in partnership. “I love being part of Peace Parks, and their support through this race has been incredible,” she says. “I’m honoured to work for an organisation which strives to empower communities and conserve these beautiful landscapes. Our vision is great and, with such dedicated staff and support, I’m sure we’re on the right track to reach the goals we’ve set out to achieve.”

Zinave National Park in Mozambique, a vital component of the Great Limpopo transboundary landscape, is a shining example not only of a flourishing ecosystem but also the power of partnerships in restoring, managing and developing the country’s precious protected areas. In collaboration with Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas, Peace Parks is committed to safeguarding the landscape and its wildlife, and sustaining the communities dependent upon them.

Looking ahead, whilst heavy legs, mosquito bites and sunburn are still healing, mentally she is reset, fit and fired up from five days of living in the moment. “I’ve had time to think of where I’d like to focus more in my role. This entire experience has made me realise how much I love Africa, and how much we can achieve through hard work, intention and never giving up when challenges seem impossible.”

Special thanks to Salomon for their generous support of Colette’s kit.

Colette crosses the line! Recovery is a gradual process, but she’s already looking ahead – both to the next running challenge and to developing her role and finetuning her focus in her role at Peace Parks. Ambitious and unstoppable in every sense, and refusing to accept the impossible…

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