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The 'cycling zoo'

Why a man dressed as a gorilla took part in an environmental cycle

Posted on: 11.08.11 (Last edited) 11 August 2011

Rob Harris, Fauna & Flora International’s Projects Officer for Asia-Pacific, on his recent sponsored bicycle ride, complete with his trademark fancy dress costume

Anyone at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) will tell you I will don the office gorilla suit at the drop of a hat, whether for a local school assembly (in which I couldn’t resist chasing the headmaster across the room) or to film a comedy April Fool’s skit (see the video below).


Fauna & Flora International discovered a cycling ‘new gorilla species’ on 1 April 2010.

As I did last year, at the end of July 2011 I undertook the London to Cambridge cycle dressed in aforementioned suit along with a range of other animal lovers in various costumes.

A cycling zoo

As a pair of wolves we had Asia-Pacific Regional Director Tony Whitten and wife Jane. Their son Andy came as a Siamese crocodile. Friends of friends also came variously as a bear, another wolf, an octopus, a lion, a zebra and a red panda (which looked like a fox but we didn’t want to be confused with anti-hunt protestors).

Thanks to the dressing up efforts of everyone, there was great camaraderie on the ride. Every time I looked around and saw two wolves cycling in unison, a bear munching on the Brazil nuts he’d stashed in his bike basket, a zebra on a 3-speed bike and a lion with his tail tucked into his shorts (for safety reasons), I couldn’t help but smile.

It all felt easier this year, thanks partly to the goodwill of passersby and knowing in advance that areas of Cambridgeshire, Essex and Hertfordshire are surprisingly hilly! Anyone reading this who doubts this fact must get him or herself to Elmdon and take a look at the beast of a hill that confronts weary cyclists.

bear and gorilla take a break from cycling

The bear and gorilla take a break from cycling

The route chosen winds its way through some beautiful countryside and quaint villages, and skilfully avoids the M11 and M25 motorways, Stansted Airport and other urban monstrosities that do not lend themselves to happy cycling. On entering Cambridge it feels as if you’ve entered a sprawling metropolis and I had to remind myself not to get frustrated with the slow traffic after 60 miles of freedom on quiet roads. It would have been difficult to keep a low profile as an angry gorilla.

The crowds on Midsummer Common were very welcoming – the only downside was the inability of the gorilla hands to grasp the bottles of water they were handing out. Luckily some of the members of the cycling zoo took on some fluids at a nearby pub.

Doing something equally fun

The event was great at raising awareness about FFI’s global conservation work. This year we had FFI membership leaflets, which we managed to hand out en route as a condition for having a photo taken with the zoo.

FFI’s conservation projects either directly or indirectly help to protect all of the species taking part in the ride and fundraising events such as these are brilliant for letting people know all about us. If you’re wanting to do something equally fun and crazy find out about other ways to help.

Thanks are due to a multitude of people. Julia and Susie of Cambridge University Press organised the logistics of the ride expertly and pushed fundraising efforts. Cambridge University Press funded team t-shirts and transport to London, which isn’t as simple as just plonking people on a bus when you have 30 bikes and daft costumes to factor in. Thanks to Julia and Susie and many others we made our fundraising target for the second year running. The funds raised will support vital conservation work in 40 countries around the world.

One final musing is that the fairy tale Three Little Pigs displayed amazing foresight about the culinary preferences of the wolf. We became separated from two of the wolves at the final food stop, later finding out that their carnivorous urges had taken over and they’d paused for a bacon sandwich!

Sign me up for next year! Tonkin snub-nosed monkey costume anyone?

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Rob Harris

Rob has been working at Fauna & Flora International since summer 2008, after working abroad for a couple of years as a Project and Expedition Leader for a gap year travel company. Rob spent most of his time in Swaziland and southern Africa, working on community and conservation projects to help protect Africa’s amazing wildlife whilst improving the lives of its people. Rob's job is split between our Asia-Pacific Programme and the Rapid Response Facility, an emergency conservation intervention initiative for UNESCO natural World Heritage sites facing acute threats to biodiversity. The Facility is run in conjunction with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

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