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A fortnight’s worth of distance run…

By Natasha Breed

I

f an elephant living in Kenya’s rolling green Chyulu Hills were to suddenly take a fancy to head to the Masai Mara for a change of scene, he’d probably take his time to cover the 400-plus kilometres. Leaving the hills he’d meander unhurriedly across the plains below Kilimanjaro, whose improbably high snowcap hovers like a cloud above watery mirages and whirling dust devils. He’d skirt cautiously around 18 NDEGE NEWS MARCH - MAY 2014 18 NDEGE NEWS MARCH - MAY 2014

Masai settlements and villages, careful to wait until after nightfall when the men and their cows were asleep in their bomas, before visiting waterholes for refreshment. Maybe he’d watch a day dawn – pink, not with the rising sun, but flamingos soaring above Lake Magadi. Arriving at the foot of the Nguruman escarpment, he would take his time picking his way up the boulder-strewn slopes, stopping often to admire the view. He’d probably take the opportunity to meet up

with other elephants in the Loita Hills, and definitely make time to investigate signs of who else had been there recently. Leaving the cool of the forest, he’d work his way through the thorn and bush country and strike out on the final push to the Mara, perhaps picking up his pace a little as the terrain grew easier. Eventually, possibly several weeks after setting out, he’d arrive at the tree-speckled savannah teeming with animals, and he might stop under the shade of a spreading fig, and watch


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lines of wildebeest trudge past him, their murmurings wafting away on the breeze. What he wouldn’t do is run. Unlike the three young women who decided last year to run, yes run, the equivalent of about ten marathons from the Chyulus to the Mara, to raise money and awareness for the wildlife and communities their route would take them through. In fourteen days. They ran for Big Life Foundation – formed to protect and sustain East Africa’s wild lands and wildlife, including one of the greatest populations of elephants in the region. In collaboration with local

communities, Big Life Foundation co-ordinates anti-poaching teams operating on both sides of the KenyaTanzania border. They ran for SORALO (South Rift Association of Landowners), a community-based initiative whose primary role is to bring landowners together for effective management of resources in order to directly improve the livelihoods of the communities. This region of Kenya is home to nomadic pastoralists whose traditional way of life, moving with their herds alongside the native wildlife, can hopefully – by integrating tourism, livestock development and other activities – continue.

And they ran for wildlife. For elephants, like our friend wandering innocently across his land, unaware of the danger he is in, as poaching for ivory escalates. For rhinos, who – on this African Ark of ours – are dying two by two a day – to feed the insatiable appetite for their horn in the Far East. And for other animals – lions, cheetahs, and others – whose numbers, and whose habitats, are threatened more today than they have ever been before. Dudu Beaton, Ajmeet (AJ) Bharij, and Bena Kaloki first met last year and began training concertedly for their challenge in August. It had been Dudu’s idea, and AJ and Bena were MARCH - MAY 2014 NDEGE NEWS 19 MARCH - MAY 2014 NDEGE NEWS 19


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quick to catch her enthusiasm for the plan. As well as preparing physically and mentally for their ‘Girls Great Migration’, Dudu secured sponsorship, advertising and set up a website. Which was soon tolling a warning at just how enormous a challenge the girls had taken on… October 24, 2013 The trials and tribulations so far: Dudu’s near ankle break AJ’s near ankle injury Bena’s total and utter ankle injury And then there were two… As the days followed, both AJ and Dudu continued to be plagued by strains and training injuries and, on the website, tales of tears and cold 20 NDEGE NEWS MARCH - MAY 2014 20 NDEGE NEWS MARCH - MAY 2014

baths, drastic treatments and waves of despair loomed large amid all the brave talk of the challenge ahead. But these are no ordinary women. Armed with an arsenal of painkillers and support bandages, carefully prepared meals and gallons of bottled water, AJ and Dudu weren’t alone when they were flagged off from below Ol Donyo Lodge on the plains below the Chyulu Hills. Teams from Ol Donyo, and Big Life Foundation joined them to complete the first day’s 28 kilometre leg of the route, and ‘Team Bushfit’ – Dudu’s parents, Ron and Pauline Beaton, and other supporters of the girls’ effort – were there to provide moral support, first aid and sustenance at rest stops, followed by a comfortable night’s

sleep for the runners in a mobile camp. With a member of Big Life riding a motorbike and blazing a trail along a route that had been mapped out for the girls by Masai board members of SORALO, and with friends and family joining in as running mates along the route, the days quickly took on a familiar pattern. Very early morning rises, often at around 4 am, to get an early start in the cool of the mornings, followed by breakfast stops and then more running until a stop for a rest in the heat of the day. A final burst happened in the late afternoon and often, after dressing their blisters and treating their aches and pains, the runners would be ready for their bedrolls and tents by sunset.


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As they ran through the thick bush around the north of Amboseli, there were signs of elephant everywhere, and Dudu’s father, Ron Beaton, drove ahead of the girls, keeping watch for danger. The route wound through the spectacular Meto Hills – one of the toughest sections of the route, with one day’s leg covering 40 kilometres. Then came Day Seven… “It was hell,” Dudu said. “We had to negotiate volcanic craters around Magadi and ran a total of 44 kilometres in 40 degree heat, in one day… My body was swollen like a little sausage, I had heat rash on my feet, and blisters the size of rocks on the sides of my toes…” And the going didn’t get any easier. A 12 hour climb over the

Ngurumans, covering only eleven kilometres, clambering over ankleturning rocks hidden in long grass left no time for stopping to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. By the time they reached the Loitas, the weather had changed and the girls were forced to run in the rain. The support vehicles of ‘Team Bushfit’ were constantly getting stuck and having to be towed out of the mud. And for the runners, making any progress with extra kilos of black cotton clay on their shoes was equally hard work. Whenever it was dry enough, they had the help of friend and pilot, Nigel Dundas, flying overhead to scout for elephant or buffalo, but even

in the Mara, Dudu and AJ had to run through calf-deep water, drenched by driving rain, with thunder rolling and lightning flashing, while herds of thousands of wildebeest plodded along their own migration route all around. Despite everything, both girls finished. A month later, having retained only three of her toenails, Dudu is already planning 2014’s event and hopes that, as well as AJ and Bena for company, others will want to take up the challenge…

For more information visit: http://charity.bushfit.org

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Charity run