Just don’t be last!

I recently ran the Skukuza Half Marathon in order to raise money for some of the community engagement work that the Primate and Predator Project does. I posted previously about raising money to sponsor a livestock guarding dog to reduce conflict between humans and leopards, so I wanted to update you on how the race and fundraising went.

I haven’t taken part in a running race since I was at middle school. All the pupils had to take part in an annual “cross country” race around the school grounds. No one really cared who won, the real action was the battle between the two slowest kids (it was always the same two) for not coming last. The loser was ridiculed for the rest of the year, but at least their punishment didn’t involve getting eaten…

The stakes were a bit higher in the Skukuza half marathon, held in Kruger National Park, South Africa. A vast wilderness approximately the size of Wales, the park is home to a vast array of free roaming wild animals including approximately 1,700 lion, 1,000 leopard, 3,000 spotted hyenas, 120 African wild dog, 120 cheetah, 14,000 elephant, 37,000 cape buffalo, and 10,000 rhino. At the start of the Skukuza race the announcer said “Beware of wild animals and do not separate from the group. We have had problems with this in the past!”. Predators like to pick off the slow, the sick and the weak from the back of the herd. The rules of the savannah, it turns out, are the same as the rules of the school yard: if you want to survive, you don’t need to be the fastest, just don’t be the slowest!

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Before

I run at Lajuma, but here in the mountains it is so hilly that I only run at about 7 km/h. That speed in the Skukuza half marathon would get you disqualified – they cut off the race at 3 hours and pick up any stragglers in a Truck of Shame™ (or at least that’s what I would cal it) for their own safety. My goals for the race were twofold: 1) don’t get eaten; and 2) not to be on that truck.

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The start line at the beginning of the race

The start of the race was delayed due to rhinos on route. A couple of minutes later the organisers played the sounds of a lion roaring, signalling the start of the race. Along the way I saw rhino and hippos. There were armed guards patrolling the route to keep the runners safe, and a helicopter to keep an eye out for dangerous animals and chase them off the route. I ran, ran a bit more, and kept running until, just under two hours later, someone gave me a beer and said I could stop. The race was sponsored by Castle lager, so at the finish line they handed out free beer. There were also people handing out drinks to the runners during the race too – water, energy drinks and even beer along the way!

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After: beer at the end of the tunnel!

The race was fun but it ended up being part of a strange triathlon. We were hosting a group of international studnents at Lajuma at the time of the race, so I was working on a very tight timeframe. So in two an a half days I had to drive 1,500 km (roughly the distance from London to Lithuania), run the half marathon, then teach statistics all Sunday as soon as I returned. I was a bit tired.

But it was all worth it. We managed to raise R8,000, which should pay for a dog, it’s vet costs, and make a contribution towards food for the first year. We plan to partner with Cheetah Outreach, who will bring their expertise in placing dogs with farmers. Hopefully we will be able to help a local farmer live side by side with leopards without the need to kill them. And I didn’t even die once.

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