Running the length of South America for wildlife

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-americaDiscover what drove a British couple to wake up in the morning and run for 25 miles – every day, for over a year…

Katharine and David Lowrie were not our average ecotourists, coming to Bolivia to experience the country’s breathtaking wildlands and wildlife. Instead, they were on a mission to save them: one step at a time, in running shoes.

By the time they reached us in the Armonía office in Santa Cruz, they had already run through Chile and Argentina, with their next stop Brazil and onto Venezuela. They had taken on this arduous adventure to raise money for nature conservation across South America. We were delighted to be one of three charities they had chosen to support.

We had a chat with Katharine to find out what inspired them…

red-fronted-macaw-ara-rubrogenys-s-reichle-copy (1)Why did you choose to support conservation of Bolivia’s wildlands and wildlife?

Bolivia is an incredible country of extraordinary diversity; from its spiraling 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 who was based in the country, whom we could see was making a tangible difference by actually buying and conserving land, employing and training local people in conservation, involved in education program and raising awareness amongst its population of the importance of Bolivia’s astounding natural world. Armonía is doing all of this.

The team is incredibly warm and welcoming – you opened your office, library and homes to us – making it quickly clear how you have gained friends across the country and internationally. You are achieving huge steps in the conservation of birds, wildlife and their habitats in Bolivia.

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-america-2What was it like to visit the Barba Azul reserve created by Armonía?

We meandered along the River Mamore 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 signaled the massive herds of cattle that have grazed away the natural savannas and the wildlife they support.

Being in the reserve was like entering another world. We rode through waste high grasses where the endangered Pampa 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.

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-america-9Why was it important to you to visit the reserve?

I hope to be the first woman and together we will be the first couple in the world to run the length of South America. But it’s not just about running; the whole point of the expedition is to run through some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. Watching a Cayman basking in the sun or a Puma crossing the road simply makes us happy! We want to share these encounters through videos and blogs, to tell the stories of the wildlife and wildlands we’re meeting.

Visiting the reserve allowed us to get under its watery skin. Plus we had run over 6000 km to reach the Beni Savannas, so there was no way that we were going to pass by the reserve without visiting it and meeting some of its wild characters!

What are the threats to the reserve?

Cattle is one of the greatest threats and Armonía are urgently trying to raise funding to fence the reserve, which we are aiming to help with through our fundraising campaign. The reserve’s rejuvenating grasslands are very attractive to neighbors and their cattle, so the warden of the reserve is having to battle to keep them out. Without fencing, this is impossible in many areas.

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-america-5What has been your most incredible wildlife sighting?

Gosh, that is a really difficult question! There have been so many wonderful encounters! We had always dreamed of seeing a Puma, so watching a female slip across the road in front of us in the early morning in northern Argentina was incredibly exhilarating.

Then there was eye-balling a red and black striped Coral Snake centimeters from my nose after stopping to tie my shoelace by the roadside in Bolivia. After the initial shock(!)…we watched it glide like liquid through grass tussocks; utterly beautiful.

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-america-6What have you learnt from the experience?

Physically, neither of us knew whether we would be able to run so far. At the beginning, when our bodies were screaming, it seemed highly probable it was just not going to happen. But it’s amazing what the human body is capable of; we were just recreational runners, enjoying running in the hills and woods and here we are over 5,600 miles, running 25 miles days and it’s possible!

Mentally, it’s been incredibly tough, the hardest test of our relationship so far as we’re tired, hungry and often scared constantly camping and living by the roadside. But we’ve got through and it’s those wildlife encounters that have been the main reason.

Also, human generosity has been incredible; we have stopped to ask for water and people have invited us into their homes for lunch. But of all the countries we’ve run through so far, it is Bolivia, the poorest, that has been the most generous. People have pulled us into their homes, under the shade, bringing us water and sharing yarns. Whilst drivers constantly stopped us on the road to give us food and drinks.

katharine-david-lowrie-runners-fundraising-5000-mile-project-south-america-4Through the pain and hard times, 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 that 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 realize 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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