Formidable-looking elephant and rhino headpieces – worn by the same two Raglan men who will soon compete in them at the high-profile adidas Auckland marathon – are sure to be an eye-catching feature of a ‘Run for Your Life’ fundraiser at the Old School Arts Centre next Sunday.

Sculpted locally from large blocks of polystyrene using a home-made hot wire cutter, and teamed with specially made costumes from Auckland, the outfits are designed to raise awareness of the very real threat of extinction facing African elephants and rhinos.

Coping with the heat inside their costumes over the 42.2km course could be the biggest challenge for runners Gareth Jones and Francoise Mazet in the early November marathon, say team Tusk and Horn as they’re called.

But they’re itching to “up the ante” and start training in their animal suits after Sunday evening’s unveiling of the striking costumes at the Old School in Stewart Street.

Live music from songstresses Kate Martin and Maida Barker, boutique wines, Good George Brewery beers and ciders and an on-the-night auction are other attractions of an evening whose proceeds will all go directly to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a Nairobi elephant orphanage that featured recently on television.

A walk-in cinema will screen short clips of the project in Kenya on which Tusk and Horn is focusing its efforts.

It’s not the first time Gareth, a personal trainer, and wife Sarah, a zookeeper, have championed the plight of the elephant and rhino – and it won’t be their last. Gareth cycled the Karioi Classic event last year in an elephant costume, and like children’s storybook character Jumbo the Elephant, all but flew in the face of winds that had his oversized ears flapping wildly.

These latest costumes however are designed for running, he says, and built to last in the couple’s “continual” effort to help save the land mammals – Earth’s largest – from possible extinction by 2025 as a result of illegal trading. They’ll definitely be used again, Gareth insists.

Gareth’s and Francois’s headpieces are the work of Raglan creative duo Tim Turner, an artist, and tattoist Tracy Brechelt. They’re a labour of love, says Tim, and have been quite a challenge as they were carved “down” from two square blocks of polystyrene rather than “built up” by the usual process of papier mache over wire mesh.

The lightweight recyclable materials include bits of chopped-up flutterboard for the tusks and horn, adds Tim, and an air-conditioning duct for Gareth’s elephant trunk.
A special hardcoat to protect the surface of the headpieces was still to be applied this week before they were airbrushed for their unveiling.

*The ‘Run For Your Life: Tusk and Horn’ fundraiser is on Sunday September 1 at 5pm. Entry $5.

Edith Symes