November 27 2014 Latest news:
Monday, July 28, 2014
The cast of Downton Abbey sketched doodles of rhinos for charity, after they were approached by a Norfolk couple fighting to save the animals from extinction.
Donna Purvis, who launched a four-week auction at The Forum on Saturday, also secured drawings from Dr Who star Peter Capaldi, Jude Law and a string of other famous actors.
The 40-year-old, who lives in Southrepps, runs a dog training business with her partner Daryll Pleasants, 42.
Mr Pleasants, a former military dog trainer, started White Paw Professional Dog Training to help domestic pets with aggression problems.
But a trip to Africa opened his eyes about the horrors of poaching, and he now jets out several times per year to train anti-poacher dogs to help the African authorities.
Patrols aim to curb poaching, with rhinos killed for their horns, which are then sold on the black market for use in traditional medicines in Asia.
Mr Pleasants is currently focusing on patrols from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, which is home to four of the world’s nine surviving northern white rhino.
His partner Miss Purvis has now launched a fundraising drive to buy more Dutch-Malinois shepherd dogs, help scale up a breeding programme and efforts to train puppies and dog handlers.
Hoping to raise £50,000, she used her connections to appeal to actors for their help.
“I was quite lucky really,” explained Miss Purvis. “My friend Rachel’s step mum is in the cast, so that was a way in.
“The artists I’ve approached have been fantastic - they’ve all been brilliant.
“When I started this I never had any idea how far it would go.”
The Downton stars backing their efforts include Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Penelope Wilton and Phylis Logan.
“I think some of the sketches are really good,” added Miss Purvis. “To give up their time was just amazing.”
Mr Pleasants has helped to train the 13-strong dog team at Ol Pejeta.
The dogs are trained to sniff out weapons and ivory, and to attack poachers on command by wrestling them to the ground.
They also wear camera headgear to record evidence to prosecute poachers
“The problem with poachers is just escalating,” said Miss Purvis. “There’s a chance we could lose rhinos completely in Africa within the next seven years.
“Ol Pejeta lost two only last week - a baby calf with its mother.
“It’s organised crime now, and they are organised with AK47s.
“It’s difficult to stay ahead of them and it’s a dire situation.”
The four week charity auction will begin on August 1, and a launch night to raise awareness of the event was held at the Forum in Norwich on Saturday.
To bid for one of the doodles, or items including a pilot script of TV show Breaking Bad, see www.charityauctionorganizer.com
Do you have a story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org