Happy at halfway.

Happy at halfway.

I came, I saw, and I sort of conquered. The timing of the run was frankly awful. No, not because of preparation but because I missed my zoo shift and last week Howletts moved their black lemurs to the walk-through. I won’t find out until Saturday whether they’ve settled in with their new neighbours. If I had to bet on it I’d say no, female black lemurs are feisty.

Anyway, my half-marathon. It was a chilly morning in North London but such conditions are conducive to fast times, right? I arrived at the 1:45-2:00 pen shortly before the start, proudly showing off my Aspinall Foundation shirt. I saw only two other people running for animal charities.

To meet my target of a sub-two hour time I needed to run nine-minute miles. I can do that on flat roads but by adding hills in training I slacked off to nearer nine-thirty per mile. I set off well, overtaking a fair few folk and making two miles in just under eighteen minutes.

I thought North London was flat!

I thought North London was flat!

There was a problem, though. As the image shows, the course was undulating. And punishing, very punishing for a fun runner like myself. In fact it took a lot of the fun out of it, and eventually the running. However, in aiming for my two-hour goal I stuck at the same pace, taking my earphones out on one hill to hear myself panting deeply. That wasn’t happening in training.

I approached the halfway mark at Wembley a little worse for wear. I foolishly reached the six mile marker in fifty-four minutes, dead on nine per mile. Something had to give, especially as the route retraced its steps and therefore the same sadistic slopes.

I’m annoyed to say that I had to walk some of the inclines on the return trip. Hills aren’t usually an issue but in quick succession over a sustained period they challenge even the strongest athletes. I can truthfully say I have no regrets about my preparation (apart from missing the black lemurs). I didn’t drink for nearly four weeks, I ate like a lemur and I stuck to my training schedule. A sub-two hour time just wasn’t to be.

The weirdest one of all - the aye aye.

The weirdest one of all – the aye aye.

Donations inspire, too. I simply have to think of greater bamboos, indris or the primates at Howletts and I gain a little added drive. I crossed the line in two hours and nine minutes, disappointed in my time but fighting back tears of pride. I really do love these animals that much.

My target was £350 so £495 is a humbling amount to raise. Combined with my (much flatter) half-marathon for slow lorises, I’ve contributed more than £1200 to primate conservation. Without doubt that achievement is the greatest thing I’ve done in my life. Of course, another £5 would make that even better (hint hint).

It’s going to be odd not having this to work towards but my lemur adventures are far from over. I’ll stay at Howletts as long as they have me, I write for the brand new Lemur Conservation Network, and in June I visit Madagascar. If all goes to plan then there won’t be tears of pride but of happiness.

Three of my friends at Howletts - crowned lemurs.

Three of my friends at Howletts – crowned lemurs.

Nothing written about lemurs on this site is hyperbole. They are the world’s most endangered vertebrate and things are only getting worse – I recently found out that my beloved crowned lemurs face losing 99% of their habitat by 2080. That means extinction.

If you stumble upon this site then please consider what you can do to help lemurs fight for survival. They are far, far more than the stars of an awful kids’ movie. They are truly some of the most unique, quirky, cute, diverse, amusing, and amazing animals on this planet. Thank you to everyone who has helped me do my bit.

The Home Stretch

Only 11 days to go...

Only 11 days to go…

I’m sat here in a fair bit of discomfort. No, I’m not hungover. I’d forgotten what running long distances does to your body. On Monday evening I completed 11.6 miles in the bitter cold, managing it in a respectable 1 hour and 48 minutes. Two days later and my legs feel like they’ve been run over. By a tractor. An angry tractor.

The run itself wasn’t too bad. There’s something cathartic about jogging through dark, deserted streets with only a repetitive techno beat for company. I couldn’t exercise without music. I began to ache after around seven miles, especially on hills. I have been tackling as many inclines as possible but after a while you do feel them. At times like those, thinking of donations and imperiled prosimians really does help. The orphan lemur I mentioned in my last post kept coming to me – my body may hurt but it’s nothing compared to the agony he has had to endure.

My pace would give me an overall time of 2 hours and 2 minutes – good, but not good enough. I need to run one or two percent faster to beat two hours. To aid this I stopped drinking a fortnight ago and I have taken on a more primate-like diet. It’s admittedly more langur than lemur as it turns out vegetables are really good for you, whilst fruit apparently isn’t as useful in preparing for a half-marathon. I haven’t eaten any insects yet, I’m saving that for next week.

Finishing 13.1 miles shouldn’t be a problem. I do have one concern – I suffer from stomach troubles every day and so I have to be careful about what I eat anyway. So far being healthier has made matters worse. I’ll keep doing this on a denial and error basis [sic] then be ultra-cautious in the 72 hours before the big day. I may also treat myself to a massage if I can find a reputable place in Gravesend (unlikely).

It will then be off to North London, finally. The course begins and ends at Allianz Park where some rugby team play, taking in the Borough of Barnet, a country park and Wembley Stadium. The finish will be emotional.

Thank you if you have already donated. Lemurs are a unique cause so you’ve really done something special. If not, it takes two minutes to do. Even a pound is a lot in Madagascar.

Greater Bamboo Lemurs

Credit to the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership for this photo.

Credit to the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership for this photo.

Lemurs are the most endangered mammals on earth and greater bamboo lemurs are among the most imperiled. That puts them in a lot of trouble. However, it is thanks to the Aspinall Foundation’s efforts in Madagascar that they stand a chance of survival.

The estimated 500 individuals live in an area only 4% the size of its former range. This has seen it named repeatedly on the IUCN’s 25 most endangered primates list, replaced in the latest additional by another animal I am running for – the indri.

They are incredibly unique beings. The bamboo they enjoy contains cyanide and they eat daily doses which would be enough to kill multiple humans. They are highly specialised creatures and have evolved over millions of years to thrive on this niche. However, that is part of their problem.

Climate change is a key issue the world over, and sadly greater bamboos are one of the first to be feeling its effects. Shifts in rainfall patterns has meant there isn’t always enough fresh shoots and leaves. This means they have to eat tougher bamboo stalks and permanently damage their teeth. If you don’t have teeth then you can’t eat.

This is a particularly difficult time of year for greater bamboo lemurs – cyclone season. The Aspinall Founation has unfortunately found lemur victims among the devastation left by these tropical storms. From the picture used above, the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership have said that the mother Padame is missing. This isn’t just a huge blow for her baby boy but potential future generations.

The situation for greater bamboo lemurs is bleak. That is why it’s vital that we act now.

Eight Miles and Counting


Just eating some leaves

So, I am ahead of schedule with my running. That may make the jogging sound easy but ‘success’ come with some friends. These chiefly are a painful right ankle, dodgy right knee, a strange ache at the top of that leg, a reoccurring blister and chafing if I forget to wear the correct garments. With two months to go I don’t plan to push myself too much, but slowly build up to around eleven miles.

Now the important stuff – lemurs. As mentioned, the Aspinall Foundation is now working to save both greater bamboo lemurs and indris. Today I will ramble about the latter. Until about two thousand years ago there were sloth lemurs, the size of gorillas. Can you imagine that? You can guess what happened to them, though. That leaves indris as the biggest remaining prosimian (again, not monkey) and certainly one of the most unique.

Their teddy bear looks are like no other and though they live in groups of two to six, adults are monogamous and only move on if a mate dies. Humans could learn a thing or two. Their haunting, enchanting singing echoes through the north-eastern forests of Madagascar and can be heard from two miles away. Sadly this makes them easy targets. Whilst taboos have previously forbidden locals from hunting and eating such wildlife, time and immigrants have caused these unwritten Malagasy rules to erode.

There is of course deforestation too. This is due to charcoal production, fuelwood, rice paddies and the exporting of precious illegal woods to places like China. Its specific diet of immature leaves plus some flowers, seeds, fruit and bark mean it is not adaptable. That’s why you will never see an indri in a zoo – the simply don’t survive.

Based on these factors plus Madagascar’s booming population, the IUCN predict that the indri will lose more than 80% of its remaining population in the next 36 years (or three generations). That makes it critically endangered and in dire need of help.

I don’t actually enjoy running and the current weather is [insert your own swear word here]. Really [insert your own swear word here]. If I can help indris though, it is worth it. I’ll leave you with one of the most special songs in the world – the cry of the indri.

Enter the Indri

Mother & baby indri

Help save not one but two species.

I had planned on my next post being specifically about greater bamboo lemurs. However, there is other more important news. The Aspinall Foundation’s Madagascar project is no longer working to save only greater bamboos, but indris as well! For me this is particularly exciting. Indris are the largest remaining lemur and one of the world’s most endangered primates – they replaced greater bamboo lemurs in the IUCN’s most recent ’25 most endangered primates in the world’ list.

Such is my love of indris that only a few days prior to the announcement I actually booked a tour of Madagascar which searches for them. That sold me, along with mentions of black and white ruffeds, red-bellied lemurs, sifakas, plus of course greater bamboo lemurs. I will expand later on what makes the indri so memorable and unique.

Training is also promising. Last week I managed 6 miles in 56 minutes so am on target to be jogging half distance by the year end. From that point it is relatively easy to add miles on. It can be tough going but if you don’t push yourself then you don’t improve.

The bigger problem is garnering donations. It is still early days but £500 is looking erm, optimistic. I have a trick or two up my sleeve (cough, blackmail, cough) but any incoming money really does help inspire me on cold, bleak nights amid the hills of Northwest Kent. In return I can offer Howletts’ most misbehaved lemur. In a Santa hat.

Aramis santa

Are you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.

Silently Sliding Towards Extinction

Monkeying around with a long-tailed macaque in Sumatra.

A long-tailed macaque in Sumatra.

My love for primates can be traced back to my childhood and visits to The Aspinall Foundation’s two parks, particularly Howletts. It was never a monkey but a golden lion tamarin, I used to get annoyed by people referring to gorillas and chimps as monkeys. I still do, actually. Sadly my teenage years meant a greater focus on matters such as watching Charlton and regrettably I did a degree in history. Fortunately Southampton’s near proximity to Monkey World rekindled my enthusiasm for all things primate related.

Since then I’ve been to the Amazon in Bolivia, rainforest in Thailand and Sumatra (orangutans!) and laid waste to my knees for the sake of slow lorises. Next year I plan to visit Madagascar. But what makes the island’s wildlife so special, why does it deserve preserving? These are questions without short answers. You can learn a little here or here or alternatively visit Howletts’ lemur walk-through on a Saturday and I will chew your ear off. Metaphorically.

The critically endangered red-ruffed lemur.

The critically endangered red-ruffed lemur.

They truly are fascinating, unique, quirky, amusing animals and come in all shapes, sizes and colours. I don’t particularly like running, though. Running is tiresome, painful and needs to be done frequently for any effect. I have a very long winter ahead of me. Thankfully I am in better stead than the last time I fundraised. I haven’t smoked in five months and I have the previous experience of training. I now know that it is tiresome, painful and needs to be done frequently.

The south's vulnerable Verraux's sifaka

The south’s vulnerable Verraux’s sifaka

Without using the Rocky IV soundtrack I’m already jogging 3.5 miles. This figure I’ll increase by 10% per week and compliment it with a shorter, quicker run of only 2 miles or so. I have a target time in mind whilst £500 is my online goal. Any funds received will go directly to Madagascar to help preserve the environment of golden bamboo lemurs and teach locals of the value of lemurs. This also means that other species in the Andriantantely National Park will benefit.

Andriantantely’s critically endangered indri. The largest remaining lemur.

Andriantantely’s critically endangered indri. The largest remaining lemur.

I will soon write specifically about the cyanide consuming golden bamboo lemur. Depressingly they are a kind already feeling the effects of climate change. This is in addition to the better known threats of deforestation and hunting. Each donation then will help to save this species and more, plus provide inspiration to me on what are sure to be some bleak and bitter winter evenings. Just a little can go a long way. 5’500 miles to Madagascar, in fact.

Kindly click here if you would like to help.

The Journey Begins

lemur edited

Even the adaptable ring-tailed is now endangered.

Two years ago after completing a half-marathon for slow lorises I said that if I ever do another then it will be for lemurs. Since then the plight of this charismatic primate has only worsened. Their home Madagascar has seen a bubonic plague outbreak, swarms of locusts have looted the land and the country remains one of the globe’s poorest nations. Understandably wildlife isn’t always the biggest concern.

Ask a member of the public to name an endangered animal and the likely responses will be tigers, pandas, gorillas, all justifiable answers. However, amid the turmoil that is life on Madagascar, lemurs have become the most endangered vertebrate on the planet. Too few people know that. At the current rate of deforestation all forests will be gone within 25 years on the island. That will mean no more lemurs.

One of the species hardest hit by the population boom, loss of jungle and demand for food has been the greater bamboo lemur. From 2002 to 2010 it was named by the IUCN as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world, the reasons for which I will elaborate on in the coming months. Whilst it was removed from this list in 2012 it remains critically endangered, there remain only 500 or so individuals in the wild and its current range is only 4% of its past distribution.

The slight improvement in its conservation status can be attributed to the work performed by The Aspinall Foundation. The child of the late John Aspinall and his two wild animal parks in Kent, the foundation’s surveys have discovered new populations and established the first ever community managed reserve for these prosimians (not monkeys). There is still a lot of effort required, though. This is hopefully where I can help.

In May this year I visited Howletts for the sole purpose of recording their black lemurs vocalising. Yes, I am that sad. What made the day memorable however, was the ‘volunteers wanted’ sign in their lemur walk-through. Fast forward a short while and my Charlton season ticket is in the bin and I’m making the 80 mile round trip each Saturday to hang with three of their species all day. More on those another time.

It has come naturally then that my next run is for The Aspinall Foundation and their projects in Madagascar. In Spring I’ll be participating in the North London Half Marathon, meaning a whole winter’s worth of freezing jogs, aching knees and rambling blogs. 15/3/15, save the date. Help save one of the most unique animals on earth.