She braved wild animals, was bitten by tsetse flies, suffered rough roads, a sore bottom and bike malfunctions – but Suffolk mezzo-soprano Laura Wright has finished her epic African Wild Ride!
Laura was one of four conservation ambassadors who pedalled more than 400km across the wilds of Zambia to raise funds and awareness for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. The team have raised almost £25,000 so far to help the charity’s work protecting endangered species in Africa.
Laura sang and danced with local children, visited an elephant orphanage project and wildlife anti-poaching unit, met with community groups and camped under the stars in the bush.
“It has just been one of the most incredible life changing and eye-opening experiences for me,” said Laura.
“It was very challenging – hot in the day and freezing at night and the terrain was tough. We were cycling on dusty, sandy roads, with big pot holes – there’d be a bush fire to your right, a wild elephant to your left and snake in the middle! So that was a challenge, as well as the long distances.”
Laura originally hails from Framlingham and is best known as the “Nation’s Sporting Soprano” for her association with some of the top sporting events held in the UK, from The Grand National, Ascot, cricket, The Grand Prix and The Rugby League, to her role as the first ever official singer for the England Rugby team, performing at their home games in Twickenham.
She now lives in Wimbledon with her fiancé and Wild Ride team mate Harry Rowland, a former professional rugby player and fitness instructor.The pair were joined on their Zambian adventure by former South African cricketer Jacques Rudolph and DSWF’s education adviser and teacher Andrew White.
Chaperoned by local wildlife rangers, the Wild Ride team cycled around Zambia’s Kafue National Park to the famous Victoria Falls at Livingstone, calling in at projects supported by David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) along the way. These included the amazingElephant Orphanage Project and specialist wildlife anti-poaching run by DSWF’s project partners Game Rangers International (GRI).
Laura also shared her musical talents with local school children and women’s groups, singing and dancing to help to spread the word about DSWF’s work to protect endangered species with communities on the ground.
“I sang Amazing Grace with the children and The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with a few dance moves thrown in, which went down well, then finished off with some sporting anthems – it was lovely to share our cultures and it was an amazing experience,” she said.
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is a highly effective wildlife conservation charity based in Shalford, near Guildford, founded by the late, great wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd CBE FRSA (1931-2017), who had a particular passion for Zambia.
David Shepherd’s granddaughter Georgina Lamb, who is DSWF’s Head of Programme and Policy, was on the Wild Ride support crew and closely followed the cyclists on every leg of the journey.
“Wild Ride was an incredible undertaking by our brave conservation ambassadors and we are so very proud of them. We’d like to say a huge thank-you for all the time and energy they invested in this tough challenge,” she said.
“Sadly more than 50 elephants every day are being slaughtered by poachers in Africa alone – the situation is critical and DSWF’s work is more important now than ever before. Zambia was always very close to grandad’s heart and the money raised by Wild Ride will help us continue his vital legacy fighting wildlife crime, protecting endangered animals and engaging with communities in the region.”
The funds raised by the Wild Ride team will be used to fund anti-poaching and park protection/rescue work, species rehabilitation and release, as well as community education.
Laura added: “We were really struck by the incredible the work that the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation does in Zambia and the money we raise will really help change a lot of lives and help educate people there, so the problems with poaching and human wildlife conflict can be prevented in the future.
We need to protect species like elephants for all our children and our children’s children – so that’s what the cycle was all about. I am just super proud to be an ambassador for DSWF!”
(Photo credit the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation)