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Diary of a Marathon Ape Man

One of the world's leading great ape conservation experts Ian Redmond will be running in the Flora London Marathon on Sunday April 18th 2004 in aid of the Ape Alliance and Born Free Ape Projects - from Gentil and other chimp orphans at Lwiro Sanctuary in Congo, to the UN Great Apes Survival Project.

Born Free will be monitoring his progress as he juggles his vital conservation work with preparation for the great race and Caribzones is proud to be associated with this worthy cause.

March 11th 2004

Elephants on the High Street

The international ivory trade has been banned since 1989, when the African elephant was put on Appendix 1 of CITES. The ban's success was partly due to the millions of people who became 'elefriends' and pledged never to buy, sell, wear or display ivory again. Since then, s stories about seizures of illegal ivory have usually involved African or Southeast Asian countries, and like many people, I thought the UK was still largely an 'elefriendly zone'. My illusions were shattered today with the release of a report 'Elephants on the High Street' by IFAW. I had been asked to speak at the launch of the report in London, and fortunately the date had been moved from Tuesday to Thursday, otherwise I might not have been very coherent after the long journey home from Japan.

Industrial Japan with Mt FujiI had left the comfort of the Kyoto Garden Palace Hotel early on Monday morning, by which time my torn calf muscle had calmed down sufficiently to allow me to walk short distances, though still with the left foot angled outwards (and dragging the suitcase full of documents, camera-bag and RHB, don't forget). The plan was to get a taxi to the station and meet Mike Huffman - a British primatologist who has worked in Japan for years - and travel together on the bullet train until he got off at Nagoya. Unfortunately, we missed each other, so our discussion will have to be by email; Mike's special interest is in zoopharmacognacy - the use of medicinal plants by animals, and we had begun to explore the concept of bringing this to the attention of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. In Kuala Lumpur last month, I had met Antony Taubman, the Head of Traditional Knowledge (Global Issues) Division. His job is to ensure that when traditional knowledge is turned into profitable products by big business, those who have known about the properties of, say, the plant concerned, receive some of the benefits. I put it to him (and later to Mike) that this should also apply to plants used for self-medication by chimpanzees or elephants, and that any benefits that accrue should fund conservation projects for the species concerned - watch this space…

Commuters on the Shinkansen bullet-train My good impression of the Shinkansen bullet train was tempered a little today because it was standing room only all the way to Tokyo, but this did mean I could hobble from one side of the carriage to the other to see the sights of Japan as we whooshed past. Mount Fuji's snowy summit was clear, and formed a spectacular backdrop to the industrial landscape on either side of the track. Quite a number of people in Japan are clearly very worried about pollution and/or communicable diseases (with the papers full of SARS and bird-flu scares) and wear surgical masks wherever they go. Perhaps the fear of viruses will be the key to bringing sufficient resources to control the trade in meat of wild animals? One of the speakers at the African Great Apes Symposium, Dr Nathan Wolfe of Johns Hopkins University, USA, argues that governments and the World Health Organisation should be doing this simply as a means of preventing another global disease outbreak (regardless of the conservation value of such action), and that prevention would be much less expensive than cure, whether measured in dollars or lives.


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My determined waddle across Tokyo Central Station with luggage in tow had its amusing moments; when the ticket inspector at the barrier took my ticket, I asked for it back as a receipt for the Born Free Foundation accounts. The inspector stamped it and handed it to me with a bow. It was only later that I noticed that he had stamped, in capital letters, the word "INVALID", though this was probably to invalidate it against further use rather than a comment on my apparent disability….

By chance, the Malaysia Airways flight from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur was one that stopped off briefly in Kota Kinabalu, but despite my pronounced limp (that's L-I-M-P, pronounced limp, for Goon fans) none of the check-in staff in Tokyo, KK or KL were able to up-grade me to a more comfortable seat. Even scrunched up with my gently throbbing calf, I managed to sleep a few hours on the last leg of the journey, but by the time I arrived back in Bristol on Tuesday my left foot had ballooned up and all thought of resuming training were put on hold. My wife, Caroline, is a homoeopath and that evening she quizzed me as to the nature of the pain and how my body had reacted to the injury. The remedies she gave me didn't seem to help much that night, but it was good to be back in my own bed and I slept like a log.

On Wednesday, I was supposed to head back up to London for a UK Rhino Group meeting, but what with my delayed return, the bad leg and the backlog of correspondence and reports to deal with, I rang and reluctantly gave my apologies. I have only recently stepped down from chairing the UKRG after ten years, because my travels for GRASP kept preventing me from being there for meetings, but remain as vice-chair. The Chair, Cathy Dean of Save the Rhino International, was very understanding - but her colleagues run marathons in heavy rhino costumes, so she must be used to the consequences of such injuries. After driving the short distance to my office with all the documents from the trip, I skimmed through the pile of post and the e-mountain of emails until dusk and headed home I wanted to try cycling a short way to see if my calf could cope with the movement, and was pleased to find it was OK as long as I cycled flat-footed with the left foot. Putting the ball of the foot on the pedal caused the calf to stretch too much, but I felt sure I could ride to the station in the morning.

Before turning in last night, Caroline suggested a different homoeopathic remedy as the first had not caused any noticeable change, and I sucked a little white sugar pill from the bottle marked Nux Vom, before heading for the bathroom. As a scientist, homoeopathy is an intriguing system of medicine because according to conventional science, it shouldn't work. The remedies are diluted to such an extent that there is little chance of there being more than a few molecules of the original active ingredient present. But in the dilution process, they are 'succussed' (shaken violently) and it is postulated that somehow the energy of the substance is transferred to the water - hence the excitement when the journal Nature reported controversial evidence of the 'memory of water'. I cannot offer an explanation for how it works, but I have experienced three different responses to remedies taken for acute pain. (i) Nothing happens (conclusion - wrong remedy), (ii) nothing happens - and then a little later I become aware that I'm no longer feeling the pain, (iii) almost immediately, the pain seems to drain away as if by magic (this was for an agonising tooth abscess, and when the pain returned a few hours later, the same relief was felt with another dose of the remedy - pretty convincing even for a skeptical scientist!). This time, it was the second response; about ten minutes after taking the remedy, I was washing my face and suddenly realised something was different: my leg was no longer hurting! I took another one before going to bed and slept well again.

This morning, I took another Nux Vom before cycling the four miles to Bristol Parkway, and although it felt a bit tender, the calf coped with the hills quite well. The First Great Western service was spot on time and I had a seat at a table so I could prepare for the press conference, so today the comparison with the Shinkansen was more favourable! From Paddington to Millbank was an easy ride, and I arrived in time to meet my co-speakers, Bill Olner MP (sponsor of Early Day Motion 422 opposing a reopening of the ivory trade - please make sure YOUR MP has signed it), Dr Tom Flynn (Editor, Antiques and Collectables magazine and an expert in antique ivory) and Phyllis Campbell-McRae (Director of IFAW UK). The IFAW report gave details of an investigation into ivory on sale in antique shops and stalls in the UK. Far from being an elefriendly country, it seems that people in the UK are buying ivory knick-knacks like there's no tomorrow (which for the elephants, there might not be) with no proof of their age or provenance. Moreover, the UK is the third biggest source of illegal ivory entering the USA and none of the 'antique' dealers questioned had the faintest idea of what documents they needed to legally sell ivory, or indeed how to tell genuine antiques from deliberately 'aged' modern pieces. My perspective was both as a biologist and as a traveller. On my GRASP missions, I've seen ivory on sale in stalls and hotel foyers all over Africa - in Dakar, Conakry, Abidjan, Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Kigali - and even in the international departure lounge of Lagos Airport! These traders are, however, in countries with little capacity for wildlife law enforcement. But the report I picked up in Tokyo of illegal ivory trade in Japan, and today's report on the trade in the UK suggest that even two of the wealthiest nations on earth, with the best police and customs, cannot control the trade. In the light of these revelations, it would seem foolish indeed to allow the proposed sale of 60 tons of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, which CITES may soon authorise. It is much harder to enforce a partial ban than a total ban, and the history of the 1970s and 1980s shows how easy it is to launder illegal ivory into a legal trade.

The biological effect of the ivory trade is striking. Elephants are keystone species in the ecology of their habitats - from hot, dry, desert scrub to cold, wet, montane rainforest, and their decline and disappearance causes significant loss of biodiversity. Across the 50 nations with elephant populations (37 in Africa and 13 in Asia) elephant numbers have declined dramatically in all but the best protected areas. In the relatively wealthy nations of southern Africa, protection is better than in most countries, and their elephant numbers are rising. The donor nations should certainly help them manage these populations and resolve human-elephant conflict, but if this is funded by selling ivory, it will stimulate the markets and lead to more poaching in the forty-something countries that don't have adequate resources to protect their elephants.

The Elgon elephants on their way into the caves to lick the salt The elephants I have studied since 1980 on Mount Elgon, Kenya, have just increased to about 110 from a low of perhaps as few as 50 after the ivory wars of the mid-80s. The poachers haven't gone away though, they are now hunting buffalo and antelope for bushmeat and rustling cattle. They are not killing elephants now because the price of ivory is low. The fate of Elgon's elephants, like every other vulnerable population, hangs in the balance with the price of illegal ivory being the critical factor. Surely the world should put resources into elephant conservation and management, that are NOT dependent on ivory sales, to ensure that elephants in all 50 countries have a chance of survival, and not just those in southern Africa?

After the press conference (which received good coverage in some papers, despite the terrorist atrocity in Madrid the same morning) I cycled over the Thames to the IFAW offices for meetings and an unexpected but very pleasant lunch-time presentation by the crew of IFAW's research ship 'Song of the Whale'. The return journey to Bristol and the cycle-ride home was uneventful, and although I'm still limping a bit, I'm optimistic I'll be able to begin short runs before too long. Thank goodness it is still several weeks to M-day!!

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Born Free is increasingly receiving donations from supporters who have run in other national races including the Great North Run, the Great South Run and the Flora Light Marathon for Women - all raising money for wildlife projects.

If you are taking part in any of these events or others no matter how big or small contact if you would like to raise funds for Born Free.


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