Bethan John discovers what inspires one couple to take on an extreme fundraising adventure to raise money to protect Bolivia’s wilderness and wildlife.
Last year, I undertook an incredible trip across Central and South America to volunteer with World Land Trust’s (WLT) overseas conservation partners. After a whirlwind 10 months – seeing some of the most breath-taking natural wonders on the continent and meeting the inspiring people working to save them – my feet finally landed in Bolivia.
I was here to work alongside WLT partner, Asociación Armonía (Armonía), and was greeted by a small, enthusiastic team working together to save the country’s wilderness and wildlife. But before I could settle down to begin my three weeks of voluntary work, there was one question on everyone’s lips: “Have you heard about Katharine and David?”
Meet the fundraisers: Katharine and David Lowrie
In 2013 this couple embarked on a yearlong fundraising adventure that would see them run the entire length of South America - from Chile to Venezuela, via Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. That’s 6,504 miles and equivalent to 250 marathons.
Katharine and David were raising money for three conservation charities, including WLT’s two partners Armonía and BirdLife International. They had just run through Bolivia, stopping off at Armonía’s office to meet the team, while taking some much-needed time out to visit Barba Azul, a WLT funded reserve in Bolivia's Beni savanna.
I was so inspired by the tales of this couple’s epic fundraiser that I was soon emailing them, bursting with questions. What I really wanted to know is what drives them to wake up in the morning, put on their trainers, and run for 25 miles – every day, for over a year – while hauling their kit behind them on a trailer. And this is what they told me.
What made you passionate about Armonía and its conservation work in Bolivia?
“Bolivia is an incredible country of extraordinary diversity; from its spiralling snow-capped mountains and flamingo filled altiplano, descending through the Spectacled Bear’s cloud forests into the steaming rainforests and flooded savannas to the land of Jaguars and Scarlet Macaws.
“We wanted to raise money for a conservation organisation that was based in the country, which we could see was making a tangible difference by actually buying and conserving land, employing and training local people in conservation, involved in education programmes and raising awareness amongst its population of the importance of Bolivia’s astounding natural world. Armonía is doing all of this.”
What was it like to visit the Barba Azul reserve?
“We took a tiny propeller plane to reach the reserve; a thin thread of gallery forest framed its banks and giant water lilies filled its back waters. These areas remained because they were inaccessible to cattle. Beyond them, white blobs and scorched paths signalled the massive herds of cattle that have grazed away the natural savannas and the wildlife they support.
“Landing in the reserve was like entering another world. We rode through waste high grasses where the endangered Pampas Deer and Giant Anteater still have a home, above our heads Blue-throated Macaws screeched on their morning commute to feed on palm nuts, and in the swamps colossal Jabiru Storks stabbed snakes and Orinoco Geese jostled for grazing rights.”
You’ve been running for over a year, what makes it all worth it?
“Well, we’re running for South America’s wildlands and wildlife, raising money for its conservation, talking to school children along the way about the amazing natural world we’re running through. And it’s funny because whenever we feel low, annoyed or depressed, it is the wildlife that seems to get us through.
“So many times we have forgotten our woes, because something amazing has popped up and reminded us what life is all about. Whether it’s a tiny piece of lichen that suddenly ups and walks off and we realise that it was in fact a bug we were looking at not a plant! Or a rowdy bunch of Blue-and-yellow Macaws who swoop over our heads, apparently checking out the weird four-legged running apparition.
“I can’t imagine a world without these constantly intriguing life forms and so I refocus and run on.”
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