Fundrais­ing footrace in Sa­hara no pic­nic

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By JO MCKEN­ZIE-MCLEAN

An Alexan­dra woman is us­ing her feet as a po­lit­i­cal ve­hi­cle, run­ning across the Sa­hara Desert to help pro­tect en­dan­gered wildlife in Kenya.

Jacqueline Manson, 31, a vet clinic manager, has re­turned from run­ning 250km across the desert com­pet­ing in the Marathon des Sables – touted to be ‘‘the tough­est footrace on earth’’. She ran the gru­elling six-day adventure race with friend Hol­lie Wood­house, of Christchurch, Peter New­land – an ex-sol­dier of the Bri­tish army who trains rangers across Africa, and two Kenyans who work on con­ser­van­cies and help run anti-poach­ing units – Sam Tay­lor and Joss Craig. The group ran a cam­paign called Run­ning for Rangers be­fore the race held in Morocco in April and raised more than US$100,000. The money would sup­port rangers who pa­trolled con­ser­van­cies in Africa around the clock to pro­tect the rhino and ele­phants from poach­ers, Manson said.

‘‘The re­cent de­mand for rhino horn and the re­sult­ing resur­gence in poach­ing has reached cat­a­strophic lev­els. In South Africa 650 rhino have been slaugh­tered in 2014 alone. In pro­por­tion to its pop­u­la­tion, Kenya has lost even more. The sit­u­a­tion is even more dire for ele­phant, with some es­ti­mates sug­gest­ing that 100 ele­phant a day are be­ing killed across Africa.’’

Poach­ers had be­come ever more determined and mo­ti­vated, us­ing high cal­i­bre as­sault weapons and so­phis­ti­cated night-vi­sion to op­er­ate at night. The poach­ers in Kenya came from an un­der­world of il­le­gal gun­run­ners, in­volved in all facets of gun-crimes in the coun­try, in­clud­ing hu­mantraf­fick­ing and drugs, she said.

The rangers op­er­ated in tough con­di­tions, and cov­ered vast ar­eas on foot each day and they needed top-qual­ity cloth­ing and equip­ment (such as ther­mal imag­ing) that was suited to the warm days, cold nights and tough ter­rain, she said.

As part of the train­ing lead­ing up to the race, the group spent time at Bo­rana Con­ser­vancy where team mem­ber Sam Tay­lor is the chief con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer.

‘‘We got a spot to do the race in Septem­ber last year and were put on the wait­ing list for ages, then all of a sud­den it was all go. It is per­fect out here (in Cen­tral Otago) for train­ing. The land­scape is quite sim­i­lar with all the rocks and heat of the sum­mer.

‘‘The Sa­hara Desert is not just all big sand dunes so I had good train­ing. I also went to Kenya for two weeks be­fore we started – I had never seen a rhino be­fore so we stayed at Sam’s con­ser­vancy and for two weeks we trained in the altitude.’’

‘‘The long­est day was 92km in one day and it took us 22 hours. It was pretty tough, more men­tally than phys­i­cally. We were pretty knack­ered.

‘‘Our feet were get­ting quite sore by that stage but no­body had to pull out. There were 1326 who started and 100 pulled out from de­hy­dra­tion or their feet pack­ing up.’’

There were sand­storms, min­i­mal gear – ev­ery­one wore the same set of clothes and slept to­gether in chilly con­di­tions un­der a woollen blan­ket pitched over them like an open tent.

Run­ning For Rangers team: Left to right, Jacqueline Manson, of Alexan­dra, Peter New­land, of the United King­dom, Joss Craig, of Kenya, Sam Tay­lor, of Kenya and Hol­lie Wood­house, of Christchurch.

Vetlife Alexan­dra clinic manager Jacqueline Manson, who ran 250km over six days across the Sa­hara Desert to raise money to save en­dan­gered wildlife in Africa.

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