Luke Berman is a vegan of six years and extremely passionate about wildlife, conservation and especially primates. He has worked for local authorities, social enterprises and charities like ‘The Conservation Volunteers’, where he developed skills in teaching people how to manage and look after the environment. He is now developing a career in Primatology and is off to Kenya in February for six months working with Colobus monkeys; before hoping to start an MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes in Spetember 2014.
1) When and why did you decide to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
It all started in November 2012 when I wanted to do a big fund raising challenge for Wild Futures & to promote the benefits of a vegan diet. Wild Futures works to protect primates and habitats worldwide. It also has a Monkey Sanctuary where it gives ex-pet primates a home for life as they can never return to the wild. Unfortunately it is still legal to keep primates as pets in the UK and it is currently estimated there could be around 5,000 primates kept as pets. Due to the fact most primates live in large social groups and are not domesticated they suffer very badly, physically and mentally, as pets. At the Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary some rescued monkeys have deformed bones, diabetes (caused from being given sweets) and carry out repetitive actions like rocking or head spinning.
I have been volunteering for Wild Futures since 2005 and spent a year living and working at the Monkey Sanctuary, in Cornwall, from 2010 and have been an ambassador since 2012. This charity is very close to my heart and it was a privilege to be able to undertake this challenge for them.
2) How long have you been a vegan and what made you go vegan?
Uhuru Peak 5895m 'The roof of Africa'
I actual went vegetarian when staying at the Monkey Sanctuary in 2007 for a month, then when I went home two weeks later I decided to go vegan. Six years on I still believe that was the best decision I have ever made.
Before going vegan I was a heavy meat and dairy eater and was a big stocky rugby player. As I was going through my university degree (Wildlife Conservation at Plymouth Uni) I was learning more and more about the environmental impact of a western diet, and the animal cruelty involved in producing meat and dairy. For example a vegan diet uses about a third less land than a standard western diet. Also, why should animals be cooped up in cramp, painful conditions and then be killed just so I can have a meal. I decided that I didn’t want to be a contributor to this anymore and wanted to make a positive difference. The fact it was also healthy was just a great bonus.
3) What preparation did you do for the climb?
Joey was in a cage alone for 9 years
As mentioned earlier I decided to do the climb in November 2012 and that left me ten months to prepare; as the climb was in September 13. I already had an alright level of fitness as I like to go the gym, do long walks and running, but I knew I would need to build endurance for this challenge. You are walking for eight days for up to ten hours, so it is a mental challenge as well as a physical one. I started going for long walks on the weekends to build up my leg strength. On top of this I was doing a lot of bodyweight training, which are exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups etc to build core strength. Within a month of the climb I started to go for eight hour walks and find as many hills as possible; the dog was very pleased.
In all honesty nothing could have prepared you for the summit climb. After climbing for six days we began the final walk to the top. Leaving at 11pm in -10 degrees and dropping to -20 we climbed 1400m in altitude and walked uphill for eight hours. After three to four hours you are relying on mental strength alone, water bottles have frozen, eyes are closing, and the top looks so very far away. Once at the top you can only stay for an hour due to the altitude and so must then climb down for three hours, have some lunch and then another three hours to the camp where you sleep. All in all it was seven days up and one and a half days down.
4) How did the rest of your group react to you being vegan?
Luke & the guides
There was not as much shock as I thought there was going to be. Our climb leader was a vegetarian and so was another woman, however, everyone else had a standard diet. I did get some early questions regarding how was I going to get enough energy from not eating meat and dairy, but I think the fact I was always at the front of the group and not as out of breath as the rest made them soon realise I was not going to have a problem. The best moment was when one member of the group turned round to me, about half way through the trip, and said ‘I have a whole new understanding and respect for vegans. Before I didn’t know much and thought it was unhealthy, but now I can see it is perfectly healthy.’
5) What did you eat during the trip, and was it easy to get vegan food?
We were above the clouds for 4 days
I took high protein & carbohydrate energy bars with me, as well as bags of peanuts and raisins to snack on during the walks. The cook we had with us was excellent and went out of his way to make sure food for me was prepared correctly and without animal products. Mornings consisted of porridge made with water, I added nuts and raisins with a cup of ginger tea (an excellent pick me up in the morning). Lunch and dinner mainly consisted of a carbohydrate (pasta/rice/potatoes) with a vegetable and bean sauce. There was also a meat one for the others. The food porters would always bring my food in separately small Tupperware boxes, which was such a nice gesture. The fruit at dinner time was really appreciated as the food got quite samey.
Are there any vegan Tanzanian delicacies?
There are a couple of Tanzanian breads using local flour and water which are quite tasty, but I am afraid most of their dishes contain meat. But they do love cooking with bananas, which were lovely to eat.
6) Have you got another adventure planned?
Joey & Charlie playing
I am looking at Tough Mudder, which is a twelve mile run through obstacles such as crawling under barb wire, running through fire and swimming through frozen water. I am definitely up for more challenges after this.
Support and keep in touch
Please do check out Wild Futures and think about adopting a monkey, which is a great way to support the charity and protect primates for the future.
www.wildfutures.org www.adoptamonkey.org @wildfutures
Also, donations are still being taken for my climb through justgiving – www.justgiving.com/luke-berman
My contact details:
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter - @lukeberman
I also coordinate activities in London for Wild Futures, please let me know if you want to get involved.