Race participants to be 'Running Wild' throughout Denver

Annual local race helps protect animals in Africa

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Thanks to technology by Wildlife Protection Solutions, Denver residents have served as first responders to prevent a crime against wildlife as it happens in real time, halfway across the globe.

They “have directly contributed to saving the lives of animals,” said Eric Schmidt, executive director of Wildlife Protection Solutions. “With just a press of a button, the appropriate people get alerted.”

Wildlife Protection Solutions is a Denver-based nonprofit that has field projects in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. A technology system called wpsWatch consists of cameras that can capture an image in real time and a wildlife monitoring app for a computer or mobile device. Together, the technology can alert rangers and managers of protected areas of possible threats and wildlife crimes — such as animal poaching — in real time.

“Using technology before shots are fired is one way to keep animals in nature, where they belong,” Schmidt said.

Denverites ‘Running Wild’ to help save animals from extinction

Wildlife Protection Solutions is one of four beneficiaries of the Running Wild race, which takes place annually on the Regis University campus in northwest Denver. This year, the race is taking place virtually and participants have through Dec. 1 to complete ether a 5K, 10K or 1-mile run.

“We’re watching some of these animals decline,” said Janet Rumfelt, a professor at Regis and Running Wild race director. But “we still have time to turn it around.”

Running Wild is dedicated to raising awareness about endangered African wildlife and eco-systems, and funding African wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts.

Since getting its start in 2015, Running Wild has raised more than $30,000 for wildlife conservation.

“People feel very connected to these animals in Africa,” Rumfelt said, “and they don’t want them to go extinct.”

How dogs are helping to save cheetahs

Another one of running Wild’s beneficiaries is the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which has a multifaceted holistic conservation platform with an ultimate goal of keeping the cheetah in the wild from extinction.

In the 1970s, Dr. Laurie Marker became the caretaker of a newborn cheetah cub named Khayam at the Wildlife Safari in Oregon. The two formed a bond, and in 1977, Marker and Khayam traveled to southwest Africa — now Namibia — for a re-wilding study. There, Marker learned that livestock farmers were catching hundreds of cheetahs in cage traps and killing them.

“It’s not that the farmers were bad people,” said Dionne Stein, development manager for events and special projects with the CCF. “It’s that they assumed it was cheetahs killing off all their livestock.”

Upon returning to the U.S., Khayam became an ambassador of cheetahs and travelled internationally to help people learn about the cheetah’s plight.

Fast forward about 20 years, and in 1990, Marker found the CCF in Namibia to create a permanent place in the world for the cheetah, and in 1991, expanded the CCF to Somaliland.

In 1994, the organization started its Livestock Guarding Dog program to help Namibian farmers protect their livestock from predator attacks. How it works is the Cheetah Conservation Fund raises and trains a Turkish breed of dog — Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs — and provides them to African farmers.

“Their big, brilliant bark can scare off a predator,” Stein said of the Livestock Guarding Dogs. The program has been “80-to-100% effective in mitigating human-wildlife conflict.”

Farmers are also embracing the program, and in fact, there are about 600 Namibian farmers on a waitlist to receive a Livestock Guarding Dog — despite the process they must go through to receive one.

Before receiving a Livestock Guarding Dog, the farmer must apply, pay a fee and pass a farm assessment to prove they are dedicated to the dog’s welfare, Stein said. They must also comply with CCF doing an onsite check-in every six-to-12 months to follow up on the dog’s medical care, and to ensure the dog is settling into its guardian role and is being utilized and properly cared for by the farmer.

On track to lose about a million plant and animal species

It was about five or six years ago when Running Wild’s race director Rumfelt starting hearing news that elephant poaching was on the rise. She started doing research and learned it’s not just elephants that are prime subjects of wildlife crimes.

Rumfelt learned that the world is on track to lose about a million of its plant and animal species, and that present day is likely the sixth mass animal destruction of time.

“Ecotourism is important to Africa as an economy — these animals are important to many peoples’ livelihood,” Rumfelt said. “When you help animals, you help people. And animals protect the ecosystem. We’re all interconnected.”

Rumfelt said she’s not the type of person to sit on the sidelines and wanted to do something. Thus, the Running Wild race — which supports organizations on the ground protecting animals and ecosystems — came to be. Rumfelt believes those who participate in the race are people who want to also be a part of the solution.

“We would love to see Coloradans show up and represent,” Rumfelt said, “and do their part to help African wildlife.”

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