Running Free For Conservation

Exercising in an urban setting is no longer just jogging in the park or cycling. It has become rather more extreme, seeing the city scene as a military assault course. The original version is known as Parkour and its proponents are traceurs. This has morphed into a slightly different version that is known as free running.

The idea is to get from A to B by the shortest route possible. Being free spirits A and B can be anywhere in town. And the routes can be over walls, jumping across large gaps, but no one has yet leapt tall buildings in a single bound. Soon perhaps?

Dr. Thorpe and her team at Birmingham U and at Roehampton have an interest in orangutans and they way they free run through the forests in Borneo and have noted the similarities with the free running going on around the streets of Birmingham (1).

They note that we humans (some of us) are skeletally very similar to orangutans and so they have a group of free runners as surrogate orangs tackling an assault course at the University. I should point out for the purists that if it’s an assault course, they are traceurs indulging in Parkour not free runners, but I’m sure the orangs will shrug their shoulders.

What’s the reason for all this? Well, the big question is what is the energy consumption by orangs travelling through their forests. The way to measure that is to kit them out and monitor with gadgets like a mask that measures oxygen demand.

Tolerant though orangs may be, that isn’t something that they will sign on for. Hence, the surrogates being kitted out in all the gear and their test stuff in the University grounds. With a grant of around $100k there wasn’t enough to have the traceurs Parkourring around the forests of Borneo dressed up in ginger fur coats. The data are expected to help with plans for conservation of the species (orangs not traceurs).


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