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Isobel Ripley's adopted elephant at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi

Trekking Africa for animals: Isobel's story

The amazing Isobel Ripley, animal lover from Scotland, has conquered many a trek with Dream Challenges, all in aid of animals. Having hiked through Uganda, Peru, Romania, the Nepalese Himalayas, Jordan and Kenya, she has raised huge amounts of funds for Dogs for the Disabled (now Dogs For Good) and SPANA, while experiencing the globe in the best way. And she's not about to stop!

Now in her seventies, she'll soon be taking on the Kenya Maasai Adventure with us and visiting her adopted elephant for a second time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi.

Here, Isobel tells us about her trekking, fundraising and her love of Kenya.

What has been your favourite challenge with us so far and why?

It is true to say that each trek I have undertaken has had its own special moments, but my favourite would probably have to be either the Gorilla Adventure in Uganda or Walk on the Wild Side Kenya.

I have always had a fascination with Africa and the wild animals that grace the plains on this continent.

After trekking through Uganda with Dream Challenges in 2014 - and falling in love with it - I went back with my two daughters on a bespoke safari in 2016 to explore the country further.

Why did you first sign up to the challenge?

The first challenge I signed up to was the Jordan Desert Trek in 2008. My New Year’s resolution was to do something to benefit others, of which I could feel proud and this definitely fitted the bill!

I signed up as soon as I saw the advert in the post at the veterinary practice where I work. (I’ve worked there for almost 30 years now!)

I raised funds for Dogs for The Disabled, now known as Dogs For Good, on the Jordan Desert Trek, along with my next two treks – The Inca Trail in Peru and Poon Hill in Nepal.

What is it about Dream Challenges that keeps you coming back for more?

I have done a couple of other challenges organised by another trekking company, but I feel more familiar with Dream Challenges and feel confident phoning the team for advice if I have a problem in the run-up to the trek.

Trekking in different countries gives an insight into the way the people live and access to areas, which would not be possible on an organised “holiday”. It is only by experiencing this that we can really appreciate what we have here ourselves.

Why have you chosen to raise funds for SPANA?

I decided to trek for SPANA – The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad  after seeing donkeys being abused on the News.

In the background of an interview I was watching, a donkey was being whipped with a long stick by its owner, whilst struggling to pull an overloaded makeshift cart across a rubbish dump.

I was horrified and decided there and then that I would raise money for SPANA – a charity, which works specifically for the treatment of working animals abroad and educating their owners in animal welfare and husbandry.

How have you fundraised for your treks?

Fundraising can be quite an awesome experience. Once you get over the hurdle of asking people for money and remembering what the objective is, it can be very rewarding.

In the past, I have organised ceilidhs and group dog walks, baked cakes and sold home-made tablet (a sort of Scottish fudge) at the Reception at my work.

One of the most rewarding fundraisers was to organise a talk given by OBE Simon King in Stirling, which is close to me, to talk about his career and experiences with wildlife filming, mainly in Africa.

I can raise small amounts through sewing and knitting things to sell, too, which also helps. It all adds up.

How have you trained for your challenges?

I live in a relatively quiet location in Central Scotland, with loads of lovely areas for walking – and loads of hills! I own three border terriers, who I walk every day and this keeps me relatively fit.

Having reached the age of 70, the stiffness in my knees is my biggest problem, but I have had steroid injections in the left knee before the last couple of treks and this seems to have kept me going.

How did you find our Walk on the Wild Side in early 2020?

It was a very wonderful experience. As mentioned earlier, I have a real interest in Africa and the wild animals there.

The landscapes and vegetation are quite special on the plains – the iconic trees under which the animals shelter – and it was a privilege to see giraffes and zebras living in the wild.

I decided straight away that I needed to go back for more!

Was this the first time you’ve travelled to Kenya?

The answer is “Yes,” although I did stop off at Nairobi airport on the way to Uganda the second time.

Is this why you chose to take part in The Kenya Maasai Adventure Trek when you won the feedback quiz prize draw?

Yes! I had already made up my mind that I would return to Kenya at some point – the landscapes and animals and the iconic thatched buildings – the whole country is just magical.

Therefore, when I won a free place on a Dream Challenge through the feedback quiz prize draw, I was delighted to use it for this trek.

Because of my age, I cannot guarantee I’ll be fit enough to keep trekking for many more years, but I am looking forward to experiencing the Maasai way of life and seeing more of the African wildlife.

Are you planning to fundraise for this trek, despite your place being complimentary?

I hope to be able to carry on fundraising in the ways that I have outlined before, and maybe try to encourage another well-known personality to do a presentation similar to Simon King’s a few years ago.

I will still be supporting SPANA, as this is a charity very close to my heart. A few years ago, when I raised the sum of £10,000, I was invited to Windsor, along with other fundraisers, to meet the staff and chief vet who work on behalf of SPANA and we watched a film showing exactly how the money is spent.

Tell us about the elephant you have adopted at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

I had been aware of the work being done by the Sheldrick Trust for some time and originally adopted “Mukkoka” (a rescued young elephant) over a year ago, before I’d been to Kenya.

It was lovely to see him when we visited the base during the last trek and it became very real to be so close to “my” elephant.

I also adopted “Pika Pika” and “Roho” for my two grandsons. I am delighted that my daughter will be joining me on the next trek to Kenya and she’ll be able to see her children’s elephants when we return to the Sheldrick Trust!

What have been your top highlights from all the treks you've completed so far?

My highlights mainly surround animals!

1. Seeing the gorillas in Uganda and the giraffes and zebras in Kenya, all wild in their natural habitat.

2. Visiting the orangutans in Borneo, the bears in Romania and of course, the elephants at the Sheldrick Trust in Kenya, all in sanctuaries after being rescued

3. The wonderful buildings in Petra in Jordan.

4. Walking downhill into Machu Picchu in Peru and just seeing the scale of the ruins on the steep hillside.

5 The sense of achievement when reaching the top of Poon Hill in Nepal in time for the beautiful sunrise against the snowy mountains of the Annapurna range.

6. Being fortunate enough to see Everest from the little plane that some of us flew in across the mountains in Nepal.

7. Seeing "Mukkoka" at close hand at the Sheldrick Trust in Nairobi on the last day of Walk on the Wild Side Kenya.

8. I have made lifelong friendships over the years through trekking and once a year, we meet here in Scotland for a long weekend - just to keep the contact going and to catch up on what we have been up to.

You know, even answering these questions makes me feel excited! If only I had started doing these challenges when I was younger! But we can all look back and wish - I have such wonderful memories of all the treks and can't wait for the next one to happen!

Join us for The Kenya Maasai Adventure

Isobel's next challenge will be our extraordinary new Kenya Maasai Adventure. After winning a free place on the challenge of her choice through our feedback survey prize draw, she chose to experience the magic of Kenya's culture and wildlife again. Why not join her and fall in love with the land of the lion yourself?

Solo adventurers and families (age 14+) alike are all welcome to trek with us and you'll get to visit Isobel's adopted elephants too!

Learn more and register

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