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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.

Wednesday 18th February - Sky-scraper Jogging

I really, really didn't feel like hauling myself out of bed this morning. My head didn't know which time-zone it was supposed to be in, and we had stayed up late last night in the bar, talking shop after the success of the GRASP side-event. But having failed to run at the weekend (except for the last minute sprint across Terminal 3) I k it would only get worse if I missed another run, so I swung into groggy, slo-mo action. Out came the magic pied trainers, on with the shorts and Born Free 'run wild' Landrover T-shirt, and in no time I was bouncing down the corridor.

Rather than waiting ages for the lift (elevator to our American readers) I thought, 'what is the point of taking a lift to begin training?' - I could never see the point of driving to the gym to run on a treadmill when you can just walk or cycle to places you have to go to anyway. I don't think I've ever run downstairs from the 24th floor of a building before, but it seemed interminable - alternating between one flight facing the window with the spectacular KL skyline dominated by the incredible Petronas Towers (like two giant steel cheese-graters I reckon) then one flight facing a concrete wall with the floor number stencilled over the door - 12 steps, 23rd … 12 steps, nice view… 12 steps, 22nd … 12 steps, nice view… 12 steps, 21st … you get the picture. By the time it was floor six, I was quite dizzy, and the grubby concrete steps became slightly smarter tiled steps (they clearly thought that none of their esteemed guests would be daft enough to use the stairs past the 6th floor, or would be too puffed to notice the décor beyond that level!!).

There didn't seem to be a back exit, so it was through the posh foyer, beneath the Dynasty Hotel's chandeliers, jogging past the bemused other guests and a quick 'good morning' to Julia, Klaus Toepfer's assistant, who was standing waiting for him with his timetable and a sheaf of today's speeches. Dr Toepfer, the Executive Director of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the man responsible for launching GRASP in 2001, had flown in from UNEP Headquarters in Kenya the previous day (he had been here for the opening days of the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) conference last week, gone back for a few days, and now returned - is he immune to jetlag?).

He joined the UNEP and GRASP team in the bar, and whilst it seemed on the surface an informal chat, in fact he drew the salient s and key developments on a host of issues from each of his staff. As a primatologist, it was impossible not to see it behaviourally as an alpha male surrounded by his troop but instead of social grooming, it was exchanges of information. His attention to detail was impressive, and given that every speech he makes will be reported worldwide, and every Minister he meets expects him to remember what they discussed last time they met, only good teamwork can make it all come together. The question of the Ministerial-level meeting was tricky - with some 70 or so ministers flying in from around the world, how could they all be given the time they deserve to speak? Even if they only speak for five minutes (and what politician in front of a microphone with the world watching can sit down after only five minutes?) that would be 350 minutes - or nearly six hours!

GRASP was one of the first things discussed, and we were able to report on the success of the side event. The room was almost full (some side events had only a handful of people turn up) and after our presentations the discussion was lively and constructive. The recent press coverage of the Greenpeace/EIA exposé of ramin smuggling between Indonesia and Malaysia was timely - ramin (a smooth, easily worked, pale wood) is only found in the peat swamp forests of Borneo and Sumatra where orangutans live, and if that habitat is to be saved, the illegal logging of ramin must be stopped. How many people buying pool cues or baby cots or picture frames realise they are paying illegal loggers to destroy orangutan habitat? Biodiversity loss begins at home!!

Afterwards, we heard, people reported to their delegations that it was one of the best events of the conference, which is gratifying knowing how much hard work Lucilla Spini from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and Sarah Mundy from UNEP had put into organising it. Piles of GRASP sletters and other documents flew from the tables, several governments expressed interest in GRASP, and the raffle prizes and gifts donated by NGO partners were a big hit (thank you Ape Alliance, Born Free, Care for the Wild and Orangutan Foundation).

Emerging from the Dynasty, I followed the doorman's advice and veered off the fume-filled traffic-clogged main street around a high-rise condominium. Past stalls selling spicy rice breakfasts, I eventually found a canalised river I could run beside. My thermo-regulation was struggling in the muggy heat, so off came the shirt, much to the interest of motorists in the traffic jams on the other bank - as a Moslem country people cover up here, but my head was beginning to pound faster than my feet and my calves for some reason were aching at every step. I figured even the prudish drivers were too far away to take offence and felt a bit better with the air on my sweaty torso.

Not much biodiversity in evidence here, I mused with concrete all around, but I was wrong; coming up the bank beneath a concrete fly-over, I passed an amazing sight. A strangler fig seed, probably deposited in a bird dropping, had taken root on a jacaranda-like ornamental tree and dropped its aerial roots to the pavement. There, the only purchase they could get in the soil was in the cracks between the large square paving stones, and so they had grown into a geometrically perfect network of square roots (could this be the square root of biodiversity?). There is something about the rate of growth of tropical vegetation that makes even the most developed cities in the tropics feel as if nature is just waiting to take over again, and if humans were to stop trimming the lawns and cementing the cracks, within a few years every piece of concrete and steel would be covered with a tangle of green, and after a century or two, our sky-scraping cities would be like Mayan ruins in the jungle. That is assuming, of course, we don't poison the soil and pollute the waters, kill all the seed-dispersing animals or cook the whole darned biosphere with greenhouse gases first….


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Back and forth along the canal-like river a couple of times, I felt it was time to head back. Despite the heat, I pulled my T-shirt back on to run by the food stalls - didn't want to shock the diners or be arrested for inappropriate exposure!! Bad move, as it turned out. My head was pounding again by the time I reached the Dynasty. I made it furtively across the deliciously cool foyer (as a rule, I hate air-conditioning, but there has to be an exception to every rule) and into the stairs beside the lift.

ian RedmondAn aching Ian, shortly after finishing a training run in Malaysia where he is attending the Convention on Biodiversity on behalf of GRASP

I know it seems daft, but on the way down I had resolved to finish this training session by jogging up the same 48 flights of stairs. Another bad move - before I'd even got off the tiled stairs, I was gasping for breath and feeling nauseous. Sit down you daft **^%$&^&!! I thought, recognising the symptoms of heat stroke. As my breathing and heartbeat slowed, I gained a respect for my friend Bernard Fosso, the GRASP Focal Point in the Cameroon Wildlife Department. His office is on the 17th floor of a government building in Yaounde and on a good day, one or two of the lifts work. On a bad day, the power is off and he has to walk upstairs 17 floors to work. He has a computer in his office, but no email, so if he wants to communicate with colleagues around the world, he has to walk downstairs 17 storeys, travel across town to find an internet café with electricity, use his own money to pay for on-line time, copy or print important documents, go back across town, up 17 floors and resume work in his office.

On another occasion I spent several hours with Dr Ankara, the GRASP Focal Point in Brazzaville, Congo, taking taxis from place to place trying to find an internet café with electricity and a functioning computer that was available without a huge queue. People in the developed world simply have no idea of the obstacles their counterparts may have to overcome to do something as simple as checking their emails. This is why the GRASP Technical Team (which Born Free provides under contract to UNEP) has committed to find the funds to get every Focal Point a computer with modem and a phone-line IN THEIR OFFICE. With this in mind, I trudged up the rest of the 48 flights to the 24th floor thinking this is for you Bernard - if enough sponsorship comes in….

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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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