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Diary of a Marathon Ape Man February 22nd

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.

February 22nd

Another Sunday, another run-day - this time in Selangor, just west of Kuala Lumpur. After yesterday, a long day of optimistic highs and depressing lows, I was glad of some time to cogitate - in fact one of the unsung benefits of running is the time it gives you to think, undisturbed by 'phones, faxes and emails.

And yesterday's events gave me plenty to think about. With the help of a late-night email from Ofir Drori in Cameroon , and the kind assistance of Mme Mary Fosi Mbantenkhu (who had been in the late-night CBD discussions until 4.30am, but still found the energy to introduce us) I finally met up with Chief Tanyi-Mbianyor Clarkson, Cameroon's Minister for the Environment. A friendly and intelligent man, he was clearly impressed by the strength of support he is receiving from some 65 international NGOs in his efforts to have the 'Taiping Four' gorillas repatriated to their country of origin - Cameroon. They had been smuggled into Nigeria, and then sent on false documents from Ibadan University Zoological Gardens to the state-owned zoo in Taiping, ostensibly as part of a legitimate zoo exchange programme. It has become a cause celebre, thanks to the indefatigable Dr Shirley McGreal of the International Primate Protection League and the global network of organisations she has rallied (http://www.ippl.org/may-02-01.html).

The Minister was happy to discuss his cordial meeting with the Malaysian Minister, but felt that it was not the right moment to give an interview with Hilary Chiew, a journalist with The Star who was waiting hopefully nearby (The Star is a Malaysian newspaper that has carried several of her articles on the story). He simply wished it to be known that he had requested the gorillas return on a state to state level, in the context of a ministerial discussion on improving bi-lateral relations, including such ideas as exchanges of technical expertise and training. And it is true that Malaysia's well-run national parks could help many less developed countries build the capacity of their wildlife departments, something that we hope they will seek to do within the GRASP partnership.

As we parted company, Minister Tanyi-Mbianyor accepted my invitation to dinner in Yaounde with Rachel Hunter, who is planning a trip to raise Born Free funds for gorilla conservation in Cameroon in a few weeks. I had to rush off to check out of the Dynasty, where Chris Shepherd, a good naturalist and conservationist who works on wildlife trade in S.E. Asia for TRAFFIC (http://www.traffic.org) had been patiently waiting for an hour. Chris had offered to work with me for a couple of days and suggested I move into Shah's Village Hotel, which was not only more convenient for his office, but a lower price and a lower building too (two stories instead of 27).

My run this morning began well - the calf muscles weren't too bad, and descending 24 steps (one floor) was a darn sight easier than descending 24x24 steps, which I've now concluded must have caused the painful knots in my calves last week that had me hobbling around the conference centre trying to look nonchalant since last Wednesday.

Chris had drawn me a map on the hotel note-paper last night, over a glass of Bowmore Surf - a wonderful peaty single malt from Islay (I've come to the conclusion that single malt is Scotland's best contribution to conservation, because on each trip I pick up a bottle of whichever distillery is on special offer in the duty free, and suddenly key conservation officials are keen to discuss complex issues into the early hours, which only the most dedicated would do without the lure of Scotland's finest product). I'd tried to memorise the map, but carried it folded in my pocket so that if I got really lost, I could at least ask directions by pointing to the hotel's address on the letterhead. Turn right out of the hotel, right at the lights by the station, past the Amcorp Mall and left at the dual carriageway (Malaysia is one of the so-called Tiger Economies of S.E. Asia and is now a land of motorways, ice-cream parlours and shopping malls). Chris had made two suggestions for where to run: an ornamental lake with a jogging track around it, and a more distant forested hill with the delightful name of Bukit Gasing. The latter was "only five or ten minutes drive" but I'd seen how Chris uses the 'gas pedal' so I k it would be some way on foot.

The ornamental lake was pleasant enough, and a few other joggers were enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine. There were exercise areas too, and I couldn't resist the rings, but after holding an unsteady pike for a few seconds, decided that was enough cross-training… Most Malaysian joggers take very short steps, and many seemed to think that strolling in running gear was a perfectly acceptable way of keeping fit, so it boosted my confidence as I overtook them with my longer stride, but it did involve a lot of side-stepping and 'excuse-me's'. Thus, after a couple of laps around the park, I felt it was time to head south along the dual carriageway to find Bukit Gasing. Chris has enthused about the diversity of birds there, and leaf-monkeys too so I was looking forward to it. The forest would also be shady and the sun was getting high.

The map was not drawn to scale, but I k I had to turn left at the Caltex garage, right along Jalan Gasing and left again opposite the Lotus Chinese restaurant. Jalan Gasing turned out to be another big dual carriageway through a well to do housing estate. The side of the road was defined by a deep monsoon drain, which brought to mind the family stories of my earliest explorations of the world. Fifty years ago, my Father was a pharmacist in the RAMC, stationed in Malaya, and nine months after my Mother and sister joined him here, in 1953, yours truly made an appearance in the British Military Hospital in Kluang, Johore, not that far south of KL. I'm told that as soon as I learned to crawl, I was off and would disappear from the kampong, much to the concern of all. Like our Chinese neighbours, we had geese as watchdogs, and the only way I could outwit them was to crawl along the monsoon drain (probably giving me an early fascination for biodiversity, though my own memories are too deeply buried). At the point where the drain left our garden, it narrowed and although I could fit through, my shorts and nappy couldn't. So when baby Ian went missing, so the story goes, they would check the monsoon drain, recover the nappy and walk along the drain until they found a muddy little boy determinedly crawling through the gunge.

My Malaysian origins came in useful yesterday, and I felt quite welcome. It wasn't exactly the return of the prodigal son, and to be honest I was more interested in killing my knotted calves than any fatted calf, particularly in view of where it occurred. After meeting up with Chris, we drove south with a friend to Melacca to visit a notorious animal park called A'Famosa Resort, recently voted Malaysia's top tourist attraction. They had lower rates for locals, so I showed my passport and paid the lower rate (its not just my Yorkshire thriftyness, I didn't want to hand over a cent more than necessary to an outfit that profits from animal suffering). The Animal World Safari is a lack-lustre safari park where rattling trucks drive the punters through dry dusty enclosures with tired-looking lions, giraffes and 'dangerous' eland (according to the commentary). The worst parts from an animal welfare point of view are the animal shows. We sat through the Multi-Animal Show, the Elephant Show and part of the Bird Show - all pretty tacky performances on shabby stages, but which delighted the children (and therefore their parents who, like parents everywhere, want to give their kids a good time). But what message do these children take home, along with their photos taken beside more animal photo-props than I've ever seen before in one place? A nine-month old tiger cub chained to a box in the heat, all day, every day (they told me they only used one for this purpose), to be there on demand for a happy family photo….



 


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  Bipedal walking can 
      cause serious injury in elephants. A'Famosa Resort MalaysiaElephants made to walk bipedally, on front and back legs, which is known to risk serious injury (elephants do sometimes stand on their hind legs to reach high branches in the wild but would never put all their weight on one leg unless forced by an even worse pain). And orangutans dressed in costumes and forced to do daft routines to raise a laugh. You can't legislate against bad taste, but there are laws to protect animals from the suffering involved. I once witnessed Bobby Berosini's performing orangutans in Las Vegas, where he put on shows for years until undercover filming exposed his use of an iron bar to discipline his performers. I found myself wondering whether these Malaysian trainers used bars or electric cattle-prods.


Ask why an orangutan submits 
        to this treatment before you enjoy the showAsk why an orangutan submits to this treatment before you enjoy the show

They would say, of course, that they use only kindness and rewards, but I wonder…. Even if they do not beat their performers into submission, to pull infant apes and elephants from their mother to turn them into buffoons for human entertainment, is an act of gross cruelty to mother and baby. And the orangutan is one of the endangered species GRASP is trying to save!


Young orangutan photo-prop 
        with canine teeth removedYoung orangutan photo-prop with canine teeth removed

I wondered what the 2,000+ delegates at the CBD conference would say at this display of biodiversity trained to do silly tricks. Malaysia is a dynamic, forward-looking country in so many ways, but this sort of animal abuse is a throwback to the 19th century and must end. Any readers thinking of visiting Malaysia should make it clear to their travel agent that they do not wish to stay in any hotel or resort that uses wildlife in this way - nor indeed in any facility owned by the same company. Money talks, and if profits decline BECAUSE of animal shows, they will fade into history where they belong.


You can help stop this 
        misery by staying awayYou can help stop this misery by staying away

By the time I'd jogged along Jalan Gasing for some time, I wondered if I'd missed the Lotus Restaurant (and my turning up to Bukit Gasing). I turned left anyway and jogged in and out of the shade getting hotter and hotter as the sun rose higher. A friendly man out for a Sunday stroll advised me that the road with the Lotus on was a long way in the opposite direction to that which I was running, so I turned round and headed back. Bukit Gasing and its birds and leaf monkeys would have to wait - I was overheating again and had to slow to a walk in the sunny bits, and jog in the shade. I wondered if I'd missed the restaurant because the name was in Chinese - like most non-Chinese, I have no knowledge of what those beautiful, elegant brush strokes mean. Chris Shepherd had told me yesterday that he had asked a Chinese conservationist in WWF Malaysia to accompany him to some local Chinese restaurants to translate; not only did the large neon sign outside advertise 'Wild Meat' but the menu included several protected endangered species, being sold openly (well, open to anyone who understood Chinese writing). Unfortunately, the Malaysian wildlife department is staffed largely by non-Chinese and so this had gone un-noticed for years (it has been dealt with now, and restaurants have been raided several times in the past couple of years, though Chris reckons some restauranteurs just keep the illegal meet in a freezer next door to evade the inspectors).

Maybe the heat had addled my brain, but I missed the turning back to the park with the lake, and decided to take a short cut running on the grass beneath the overhead railway (I k this must end up at the station near my hotel). This 'grass' turned out not to be springy turf, but grass growing over rubble - not the easiest surface to run on - so I looked for somewhere more level. There was only one choice, so smiling wryly to my self, I dropped down into the monsoon drain and trotted along the concrete sides where the going was firmer, if a bit slimy. Apart from the slightly sulphurous smells arising from each splashy footfall, this worked well until the drain disappeared under the dual carriageway. I was tempted for a moment to see if I could squeeze through… but keeping my shorts on seemed a better idea, so I climbed out and re-joined the more conventional joggers in the park, startling a dog relaxing in the shade in the process - he ran off with disbelieving glances over his shoulder and I trotted back for a cooool swim and a well earned breakfast buffet.

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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 bornfree@caribzones.com if you would like to raise funds for Born Free.

 
 
 


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