Wacky racers rally to raise £1million for Asian elephant

A convoy of adventurers including actor Joshua Jackson, actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, politician and former editor of The Ecologist Zac Goldsmith and philanthropist Ben Elliot has set off on a charity race across India to raise money for the endangered Asian elephant.

They have been joined by more than 80 explorers, wildlife lovers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists from countries including Peru, Bulgaria, Turkey, Australia, Lebanon the UK and USA. Each has paid £6,000 to enter the race, and has a fundraising target of the same amount.

The drivers are covering up to 170km per day in a variety of vehicles such as Royal Enfield motorbikes, Gujarati chagdas, Mahindra jeeps, rickshaws and vintage cars. According to the organisers, the race is more a test of “agility, wit and character” than speed.

Taking their toll

The race, from Jodhpur to Jaipur, was inspired by the adventures of the late Mark Shand, who in 1988 rescued an elephant called Tara from begging on the streets of India. Shand, who was the brother of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, then travelled 1600km across India with Tara, which he documented in his book Travels on My Elephant.

Tara inspired him to co-found charity the Elephant Family, which aims to protect the Asian elephant from extinction by reconnecting forest areas and re-establishing migratory routes.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal wildlife trade and conflict with humans are all taking their toll on the Asian elephant, which has seen numbers halved in the past 60-75 years, according to conservation organisation WWF.

Private collection

Along the route, the rally drivers will visit local communities and take part in a cricket match against a local team. India’s leading conservationists will speak about the conservation projects being powered by the event at different points along the way.

Local dignitaries are lending support, with prince Yuvraj Shivraj Singhji Sahib of Marwar of Jodhpur flagging racers off at Mehrangarh Fort, and the HH Gajendra Singh Khimsar Ji opening up his private collection of classic cars and motorbikes for the group. HH Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh Ji Bahadur of Jaipur will host the post-race dinner.

Racers and backers of a previous rally for the charity include TRH the prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, HRH princess Eugenie of York, Tom Parker Bowles, and actor Goldie Hawn.

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Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.


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