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Charity trekkers are climbing Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Zoological Society of East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 07:47 17 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:00 17 January 2017

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Photo by MHGALLERY

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Photo by MHGALLERY

MHGALLERY

The breathless summit of Kilimanjaro beckons for a fund-raising expedition leaving Norfolk this week. EDP journalist CHRIS HILL is among the 12-strong team climbing Africa’s highest mountain to raise money for an East Anglian charity which helps the continent’s endangered animals.

Members of the team preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise money for the Zoological Society of East Anglia. Photo provided by Chris Hill Members of the team preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise money for the Zoological Society of East Anglia. Photo provided by Chris Hill

It’s an awe-inspiring challenge which mixes the physical rigours of high-altitude mountain-climbing with the natural splendour of Africa.

And for a determined team of charity trekkers there is a logical reason – or perhaps I should say “zoological” – for attempting to conquer the summit of Kilimanjaro, the continent’s highest peak.

Nowhere else on earth evokes the wonder of wildlife quite like Africa, with its lions, giraffes and elephants becoming the emblem of countless nature charities, not to mention the subject of so many jaw-dropping documentaries.

So it’s a perfect setting to raise money for the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), the charitable trust which runs Banham Zoo and Africa Alive, but which also works in partnership with conservation bodies and breeding programmes around the world – including many in Africa.

A three-week-old Grevy's zebra at Banham Zoo, with his mother. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY A three-week-old Grevy's zebra at Banham Zoo, with his mother. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

During the 10-day expedition, the team will be surrounded by the beneficiaries of this work – albeit from quite a height.

At 5,895m (19,341ft), Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, a dormant volcano which stands a monumental interruption to the African plains

To put this in perspective, Britain’s highest peak of Ben Nevis stands at 1,345m, while Mount Everest towers over all at 8,848m.

But Kili brings its own challenges. During the ascent, temperatures could drop from an equatorial 20 degrees at the base of the mountain to below -20 at the summit.

A giraffe at Banham Zoo. Picture by: Sonya Duncan A giraffe at Banham Zoo. Picture by: Sonya Duncan

It will take five lung-bursting days to complete the 35-mile trek from entry gate to the mountain summit, climbing for up to 14 hours per day.

Of course, we’ve all trained to prepare for the physical effort, had our jabs and tablets to ward off diseases, and bought or borrowed the right equipment to keep warm in the bitter cold (and I know we’ll be grateful to the team of local porters who will be lugging our overnight gear up the mountain, along with our camping equipment and food).

But one of the biggest concerns shared by the team is about altitude sickness – the debilitating effects of reduced oxygen in the air. It cannot be predicted, it is no respecter of age or fitness, and it is the main reason why many people fail to reach the summit.

Nevertheless, there’s a positive mood in the team, and a determination to reach the roof of Africa.

Martin Goymour at Banham Zoo. Photo by Sonya Duncan Martin Goymour at Banham Zoo. Photo by Sonya Duncan

The climb has already raised more than £20,000 for ZSEA, and knowing the benefit which that money could bring to Africa’s extraordinary wildlife will be a major motivation when the going gets tough.

MEET THE TEAM

The 12-strong expedition team comprises a diverse cross-section of East Anglian society, including a fireman, two grandmothers, a hairdresser, a zookeeper, a pole-dancing instructor, and a former soldier.

Here are some of their thoughts on what motivated them to take part.

• Frankie Bleasdale, 28, is an animal keeper at Africa Alive, near Lowestoft, so species preservation is the main reason for joining the climb. “I love all things involving animals and am a very active person who loves new experiences – and I think climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a big one. I thought it was time to raise money for the endangered animals many people seem to forget about.”

• Retired hairstylist Vikki Middleton, 66, from North Elmham near Dereham, will be climbing with her friend Jo Bell, also 66 and from nearby Beetley. “We have both lived in Africa and love heading out that way either for a holiday or a challenge,” she said. “Jo saw the challenge in the EDP and the thought of raising funds for endangered wildlife, especially in Africa, is a very worthwhile cause, sadly.”

• Hannah Neale, from Bardwell in Suffolk, is a 29-year-old training advisor who is also a part-time pole-dancing and aerial fitness instructor. She will be making the climb with her partner Michael Goodman, a 32-year-old Information security officer and former Royal Anglian Regiment soldier. “Mike and I visited Banham Zoo, saw the posters, and thought ‘why not’,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this and will be super pleased to have achieved this before I’m 30.”

• Valerie Watson Brown, from Bridgham, near Thetford, is director of Norwich-based marketing agency The Lively Crew. She said: “As part of a global conservation network the charity plays such an intrinsic part in animal conservation these days and animal welfare is at the heart of its values. As a parent I feel there is no substitute for introducing children to animals at a young age and ZSEA’s commitment to animal education is without equal in the region. If we can assist in some small way, then it’s the least we can do as we have all benefitted greatly from their efforts.”

• David Blood, a 35-year-old engineering manager from Little Plumstead, said: “As a frequent visitor to Banham Zoo I’ve always had a massive interest in how the animals are looked after and how the zoo tries to help endangered species of the world; whether that is through breeding and education programs in the zoo, or through the work they do in the wild. This work costs a huge amount of money and I wanted to help raise something to support this great work that they do.”

• Fireman Pete Sheedy, 54, from Poringland, will be raising money for ZSEA and also for the Hethel Ward at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which looks after patients with respiratory conditions, in honour of his late wife Keren who spent time on the ward during her illness. He said: “I’m hoping that we’ll all pull together and encourage each other; we know that some people don’t make it the entire climb, but we’re determined that with some good humour, gritted teeth and a great fundraising total in our sights, we’ll manage to conquer the mountain.”

•The team also includes Hayley Talbot, Julie Davies, Dave Farmer, Joel Bessey, and Chris Hill.

A ‘LIGHTHOUSE FOR CONSERVATION’

During the last year, the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) has supported African projects including Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Save the Rhino International, Grevy’s Zebra Conservation and Lion Guardians, which looks at long-term solutions for people and lions to co-exist safely in Tanzania and Kenya – the two countries whose border passes the base of Kilimanjaro.

Martin Goymour, chief executive of ZSEA, which owns Banham Zoo and Africa Alive, said the creation of the charitable trust in February 2013 was the best way to secure the future of the zoos which his family’s business had previously supported for more than 40 years. And he said the ability to collect fund-raising donations was crucial to continue their support for international breeding programmes and conservation projects.

“We would like to preserve the very positive aspects of what the zoos have achieved, are achieving and will continue to achieve in the long term,” he said. “The only way to achieve that was to put it into a charity trust.

“I hate the term ‘in captivity’. I prefer to think of zoos as a safe place. The human population is increasing in such vast numbers so the pressures on those remaining wild species is huge.

“So what can we do in our little corner of Norfolk at Banham Zoo? We can be part of the grass roots and play our part co-operating with zoos worldwide.

“Originally, zoos acted independently, but over the last couple of decades zoos have come together. Where animals used to be bought and sold between zoos, now it would be rare to find an animal that came from the wild. Animals have surpassed monetary value, so zoos throughout the world co-operate, not just freely, but amicably, with the common aim of ensuring survival and longevity of the various species of a wide variety of animals.

“Our zoo represents a tremendous resource in its animals and the expertise it has. We are a small but vital cog in a very large piece of machinery.

“We work with zoos worldwide, and with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) which talks to governments and looks at the strategy of survival for species around the world and how that can be implemented.

“We share knowledge, and we are not in competition with them. If we are adding a new species of animal, then there are hundreds of zoos all over the world we could get in touch with to ask what they are feeding them, or what problems they have had.

“Banham Zoo and Africa Alive are a fantastic resource and they are much enjoyed, but we want them to progress – not only for the benefit of the animals and the parks, but also as a lighthouse for conservation, something to be proud of in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

All ZSEA’s Kilimanjaro team members have their own fundraising pages. For more details, contact ZSEA’s fundraising office on 01953 715371.

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