WANTED: a keen rhinoceros to participate in the Hamilton Half Marathon. Sound weird? The challenge is part of a global awareness campaign aimed at saving wild elephants and rhinos.
Hamilton zookeeper Sarah Jones is the founder of the Tusk and Horn Wildlife Trust; dedicated to supporting the projects in South Africa and Kenya protecting and saving these iconic animals from being killed by poachers for their tusks and horns.
Sarah’s husband Gareth is donning one of two specially made animal suits for the 21km event – running dressed as an elephant to support and raise awareness for the species. And the couple are looking for a second person to become involved and join in as the rhinoceros.
Gareth has already run the event once in costume in 2013, as a training run for the Auckland Marathon the same year, where the idea and the costumes were launched to promote the trust and its cause.
Sarah hopes someone else can step into her shoes at the Hamilton Half Marathon as the rhino, leaving her free to spread the word on the trust and support the team’s runners and walkers.
While Gareth and his fellow animal are sure to attract smiles and attention, they are also keen to share the serious message behind their efforts.
“In Africa today, a rhino is poached for its horns (the same substance our finger and toenails are made from – keratin) every eight hours and an elephant for its ivory (which is a tooth that has grown externally) every 15 minutes. The sad reality is neither species will be alive in ten years if the insatiable demand continues for the belief that keratin can cure cancer and headaches and an ivory ornament looks better on a necklace or mantelpiece than the elephant.”
As a rhino keeper at Hamilton Zoo, Sarah has a deep connection and respect for the massive animals in her care. The Tusk and Horn Wildlife Trust came about after Sarah spent a week with founder of the The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, at the nursery and elephant rehabilitation stations in Kenya.
“We had a long distance connection for about 12 years due to my individual support of the DSWT but also my burning passion for Africa and its diversity of wildlife, especially elephant and rhino.
“Returning to New Zealand I knew the timing was right that I could look at directing a charitable trust for increasing knowledge and promoting opportunities for the New Zealand public to learn about the elephant and rhinoceros species and their habitats. A big part of that vision is also sharing the tragic side and that’s the relentless poaching and the innocent victims that the projects we support rescue, care for and rehabilitate.
“Our donations have helped purchase mobile veterinary supplies including an x-ray machine and ultrasound equipment for use in the field in South Africa, and milk powder for the orphans’ continual supply in Kenya.
Elephant calves are dependent on their mother’s milk for the first 3-4 years of their life and rhinos for their first two years which means a nursery full of orphans goes through huge amounts of milk each day.”
Sarah and Gareth love the outdoors and keeping active. As owner and operator of Raglan Rock Climbing and Caving (the top ranked activity to do in Raglan on TripAdvisor), Gareth is also a personal trainer and keen cyclist and runner.
While his fitness is always impressive, the ordeal of running in an animal suit adds an extra layer of physical challenge. However these animal suits have an enormous amount of creativity and thought behind them.
Designed for running and walking, each has complete upper body support and is adjustable to different sized people who step inside.
“They are quite roomy inside with each having space for a Camelbak, hydration and food supplies, a facecloth and a music player. The absolute necessities for any event,” says Gareth.
The body pieces were designed and created in Auckland by costume designer and WOW Supreme Winner 2001 Tarja Pabbruwe. Raglan tattooist, costume and prop creator Tracy Brechelt carved lifeless blocks of polystyrene into the eye-catching headpieces and artist Jeremy Shirley, well known in Hamilton for his bright and colourful public art works, brought each to life with his realistic touch of spray paint.
“The bulk of the materials were all kindly donated by New Zealand companies who were impressed with our project at hand and their ability to generously help with their products,” says Sarah.
While training continues towards the Hamilton Half Marathon, the pair also plan to showcase their elephant and rhino at the Auckland Marathon and Hamilton Round the Bridges.
“We are still looking for more people to join in our fundraising team for the Hamilton Half but also the other two events,” says Sarah.
“All events offer either running or walking as options, so it’s inclusive of everyone. The day is all about having fun, our mascots being beacons, keeping people motivated, raising awareness for the species and funding for the projects in the wild.
“We are encouraging people to give up one coffee or small luxury item and put their loose change towards our event team and the future of wild elephants and rhino. People can connect with us on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org”