Soar with the Bearded Vulture

Photo: Em Gatland

Soar with the Bearded Vulture

The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge

On the 10th of September some very lucky trail runners will be able to go where only eagles (and bearded vultures) dare. The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge is one of the highlights on the South African trail running calendar. Not only does the event take runners to new extremes, but it also allows them to play a part in the conservation of one of the country’s most endangered species, the bearded vulture.
The Maloti-Drakensberg highlands is home to the majestic bearded vulture. With only about 100 pairs remaining in southern Africa, the bearded vulture is on the critically endangered list.
By entering the Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, a challenging 50km mountain run through the Royal Natal section of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, part of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site and home to the endangered bearded vulture, a portion of your entry fee goes towards conservation efforts in place to help conserve and nurture South Africa’s small population of the birds.
“This is probably the highlight and brilliantly unique aspect of the Wild Series,” says Karen Thomas, Old Mutual head of brand. “When you enter a Wild Series event, your entry fee immediately does something good, and goes towards ongoing conservation efforts. It’s incredibly important that we look after the environment around us, and with Wildlands, the Wild Series and these fantastic events, we are able to do that.”
The bearded vulture has a pivotal role in the ecosystem and are large birds, think 2.5m wingspan. They have a characteristic diamond shaped tail and are impressively large. They have an orange chest and a white head which makes them easy to spot and identify.
The decreasing population of the bearded vulture in southern Africa is a concern for conservationists. Unfortunately this majestic bird of prey is susceptible to several threats in Lesotho and South Africa which are contributing to the decline in population.
The first threat is a general lack of food. Bearded vultures are scavengers and feed mostly off the remains of dead animals. In the Maloti-Drakensberg highlands, these remains more often than not came in the form of farm stock mortalities. Recently however, farmers have introduced better farming practices, resulting in less stock deaths, and less food for the vultures to scavenge.
Other threats include trapping and poisoning, and electrocution from power lines. Another nail in the coffin seems to be the alternative name given to the bearded vulture, the lammergeier, which is German for ‘lamb vulture’. In the past people believed that vultures attacked and killed lambs, which is now proven to be false, but the name stuck and proved to be a great disservice to the birds.
By entering the Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, though, R400 of the entry fee goes towards The Maloti-Drakensberg Vulture Project that works towards conserving the bearded vulture.
Not only do you contribute to conservation efforts financially, but you get an opportunity to immerse yourself in their natural habitat and hopefully spot a few in the process. Runners have a high chance of seeing them because there is a pair breeding on the Amphitheatre and one further north. These birds are often seen feeding at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge (who place bones out for them) and the race goes straight through the lodge.

About the Mont-aux-Sources route
The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge is a toughie, but it’s definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears, and will certainly be an experience of a lifetime.
This is an event that tests your ability to endure a challenge, but also allows you to contribute to a conservation challenge,” says Thomas. “Wildlands and the Wild Series put on an incredible experience for all runners, but more than that the Mont-Aux-Sources gets you right into the habitat of a beautiful bird that is severely threatened and brings runners into the heart of nature on the conservation project aimed at protecting the bearded vulture. We always talk about growth and looking to the future at Old Mutual, which is exactly why we partner with the Wild Series and Wildlands; our aims in building a better tomorrow run parallel.

On the run, runners can expect to charge through some of our country’s most rugged and beautiful scenery. Your route will take you through the Mahai Valley and up towards the escarpment where you will have to tackle the chain ladders and then scramble down the Gully. Your endurance will be tested, as will your ability to run and compete at high altitudes. If you are from the coast, expect to feel it when you near the highest part of the run.
The chain ladders, rocky terrain and big climbs make this one of the toughest yet most unforgettable trail experiences in South Africa. This race is a spectacular adventure, and worth every ache you feel afterwards.