Animal-lovers to climb mountains in the name of conservation

Three intrepid animal-lovers plan to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro and hike to the Everest base camp whilst wearing lion, leopard and tiger costumes

05 August 2018 - 00:00 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER

Conservationists have a mountain to climb in saving the world's big cats - actually, make that two mountains, and climb them in fake-fur fancy dress.
Three intrepid animal-lovers plan to not only climb to the top of Kilimanjaro and hike to the Everest base camp in November, but to do it while wearing lion, leopard and tiger costumes.
Safari guide Gareth Legg, whose idea the expedition is, will be joined by two wildlife guides working in SA, Tracey Bruton and Timothy van Vuuren.The risky alpine adventure is being undertaken in the name of the feline predators that are increasingly under threat from the bone trade, demand for exotic pets, trophy and canned hunting, commercial breeding and poaching.
The Trek for Big Cats team will raise money for the UK-based conservation charity Born Free and promote global awareness of the animals' plight.
None of the three has done high-altitude climbing before and they are now putting in hours of core, resistance and cardio training to be as fit as possible.
Legg - originally from Durban, but who now manages a French bistro in his adopted home of Edinburgh, Scotland - said the handmade costumes, weighing around 6.5kg each, made the expedition unique.
"It adds a new dimension to an already extremely challenging trek," he said.
"We hope that by doing something so extreme, the public will be inspired to make a stand to protect big cats.
"The look and feel of the costumes will be as lifelike as possible to maximise the impact of the campaign."But Legg would not let the cat out of the bag when it came to the cost of making their head-turning costumes, only hinting that it ran into "thousands of pounds".
He has spent the last week getting accustomed to his lion suit, while the leopard and tiger outfits - to be worn by Bruton and Van Vuuren respectively - are still in the design phase.
"The mascots create a fun way to get global interest, especially with people who normally don't pay attention to environmental issues."
A bespoke mascot manufacturer in Manchester, England, has been commissioned to make the big-cat costumes.
"The mascots are made from the highest-quality materials and are fairly expensive due to the design process and also that they're handmade," Legg said."The material for the body of the lion mascot is a made from an acrylic faux fur ... We are conservationists and animal-lovers, so did not want to use any materials from any animal. It is all man-made and artificial materials."
Van Vuuren, who is based at Mala Mala in Mpumalanga, said the trek was not going to be easy but would be a "fantastic" challenge for a good cause.
Bruton, a guide at Timbavati, said the campaign's message was that "every human being has the responsibility of nurturing and protecting their environment and to hand it over unspoilt for future generations to enjoy".
"It's certainly a message we are keen to promote," she said.

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