A camel’s best friend

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The Royal Scottish Geographical Society welcomes its second speaker of the season to Galashiels this month.

John Hare is a well-travelled conservationist who has made the preservation of wild camels his fundamental passion in life.

John has not only created reserves for wild camels, but has travelled into wild areas in China that no other foreigners had been permitted to in 45 years.

Born into a family of soldiers, clergymen and administrators, he spent part of his working life in a publishing house and wrote children’s books.

In 1957 he accepted a post that would define more clearly the eloquent speaker that he is renowned for today. He was the last recruit into Her Majesty’s Overseas Administration Service in Northern Nigeria.

This was his stepping stone to working for the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya. During this spell he began taking journeys into northern Kenya with camels, expeditions that he often took alone.

These journeys into remote areas that evoked his love of camels was partly chance, but was in part a deep-seated desire in his young consciousness.

He said, “I was influenced at an early age by a book by Sir Percy Fawcett entitled Exploration Fawcett recounting his travels to find the Matto Grosso in the Amazon. This was my edifying moment in childhood that made me want to be an explorer.”

In 1993 John accepted an offer to join a Russian scientific team who were researching the status of the wild camel in Mongolia. The wild camel is the eighth most endangered large mammal in the world and only survives in the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia.

This collaboration with the Russian team and the presentation of their findings at an international conference helped him gain permission to enter a former nuclear test site in China; a vast saltwater desert where the Bactrian camel had survived 43 nuclear tests and water with a higher salt content than most seas.

In 1997, John founded the Wild Camel Protection Foundation. Having secured funding with the assistance of his co-trustee, Kathryn Rae, he put forward proposals to create the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve in the former test site in the Xianjiang province in China.

China agreed to the proposals and in this way the foundation assisted them in creating a reserve equivalent to the size of Bulgaria. The reserve not only protects the Bactrian camel but also a number of other IUCN Red Book endangered fauna and flora.

In order to achieve work on a scale such as this a person needs to be completely focused and driven.

I gained an idea of the mindset of John Hare when I asked if he would have changed anything in his life.

He said, simply: “I have absolutely no regrets.”

Travelling with 15 domestic camels, a Chinese scientist and four Kazakh herdsmen, John returned to the spring of Kum Su that he had discovered in 1999. Deep below the desert sands, it contained not only fresh water but a population of native wildlife.

Over the years the spring was polluted by illegal gold miners. He was relieved to return in 2011 to find that it had been cleaned up and the wildlife was returning to this habitat niche.

John will present his lecture, Travels on a Camel in the Desert of Lop, at Heriot-Watt University, Scottish Borders Campus, Galashiels, on Tuesday, October 25 at 7.30pm.

Tickets cost £8 for adults, free for RSGS members, students and under-18s.