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Explorer, conservationist and mentor - John Blashford-Snell

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Colonel John Nicholas Blashford-Snell OBE
Image: Science Exploration Society

At a time when children are increasingly inactive and oppressed with rules for their safety, John Blashford-Snell shows us all a different way to live. It will not be everyone's cup of tea.

Born in 1936, a sickly child living on the island of Jersey, he drove himself to become fit. He was serving in the Royal Engineers and just twenty-two when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia invited the British Army to send a team to explore and make the first descent of the Blue Nile. Captain John Blashford-Snell was commissioned to select, train and lead the 60-strong party. The success of this expedition in 1968-69 led to tougher assignments such as the first vehicle crossing of the Darian Gap (1971-2) and the exploration of Africa's 2,700 mile-long Zaire River (1974-5).

The inspiration of British explorers such as Drake, Raleigh, and Livingstone and his personal experience convinced JBS that the spirit of adventure can inspire young people and assist in the development of communication, transport, health and conservation solutions. In 1969 he and his colleagues formed the Scientific Exploration Society, which fosters exploration worldwide while meeting environmental, medical and scientific objectives.

These objectives include building pipes to carry clean water, providing dental assistance, and improving care for people afflicted with malaria. The sporting component was unintentional.

JBS developed an innovative method of negotiating white water in an inflatable boat, and enthusiasts made his invention a worldwide recreation. (I was quite unaware of the debt I owed the man called Blashers when I went whitewater rafting, riding an inflatable boat on a tumbling river that rushed out of a snowy mountain and carried me through virgin woods to a silent encounter with a beautiful painted duck.)

In the 1970s and 80s, JBS founded Operations Drake and Raleigh, mounted for young people from 150 nations who explored the world while working with scientists and service people. He's passionate about inspiring the young. "Put them through sheer hell and they all come out rather well at the end," he remarks cheerfully. Meeting challenges, they return home as pioneers confident they can make contributions to their communities.

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JBS with a peccary
Image: Science Exploration Society

The Scientific Exploration Society has the support of HRH The Prince of Wales. JBS has organised and led over sixty expeditions, while building a reputation as a practical field engineer. He has been awarded the Seagrave Trophy, the Livingstone Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and the Gold Medal by the Institute of Royal Engineers.

He works hard to stay fit, and continues to lead expeditions and to write. In Mammoth Hunt he described the quest to find and protect the giant elephants of Nepal.


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