Climbing for wild dogs

2013-12-19 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG student has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity — despite being epileptic, suffering an ulcer at the summit, and witnessing the death of a fellow climber.

In the climax of a solo, volunteer effort to raise money for endangered wild dogs, Jamie-Lee Anderson (20) found herself coughing up blood at the very top of Africa’s highest peak last week, but climbed all the way down without assistance — and now says the ordeal was well worth the risk.

Anderson, who had never climbed any mountain before, said a European climber from a separate expedition died from a brain injury while she was on the mountain. Anderson said that she was not comfortable with talking about the traumatic incident although she said that she was later told a Dutch man had died.

“I saw hikers being carried off on stretchers and I had my fingers crossed,” said Anderson.

She said in January an experienced mountain climber was killed by lightning strike on Kilimanjaro.

“At the top, victorious, all I heard was wheezing, my wheezing. I was coughing blood.” She said that she “felt great” about making it to the top.

Now recovering well back in Hilton, the University of KwaZulu-Natal biology student said that despite her epilepsy, she had been determined to use the feat to raise funds and awareness about one of Africa’s most endangered species. “You don’t have to be a celebrity to make a difference,” she said.

“If we don’t act now to save this species, generations after us will not value them, so even though I am epileptic and I took a big, dangerous decision. It had to be done.”

Anderson said she was raising money specifically to get collars to track the dogs, which she has previously used in the field. “We tracked the dogs using telemetry, which are GPS and satellite based tracking collars fitted to pertinent members of the pack,” she said.

The collars cost in the region of R35 000 and are crucial to the monitoring of the dogs, and Anderson would like to raise enough money to be able to purchase at least one satellite collar.

She said the animals once lived in almost every country in Africa, but were likely extinct in 18 of those countries today. Wild dogs were “in big trouble” and were at risk of becoming completely extinct in the wild.

Marumo Nene, one of the wildlife monitors with Wildlife Act who worked directly with Anderson, said she had “never come across” a volunteer prepared to take the risks Anderson did for the charity.

“She is a good girl and what she did was extraordinary. We appreciate her work and we are really proud of her,” said Nene. “Altitude sickness smacks people in the head differently … some people not at all and some people die.”

Anderson has recently been involved in the monitoring of endangered species at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park and Tembe Elephant Park, through Wildlife ACT. She said she was worried that too few people knew about the plight of one of the world’s most endangered canines, which is the African wild dog.

Nene said there are only 394 wild dogs left in Africa and South Africans need to know about the challenge. She said she would like to raise enough money to be able to purchase at least one satellite collar to assist Wildlife ACT.

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