First recipient of the Tusk Trust Wildlife Ranger award, which was presented to him by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, at a ceremony held at Claridges in London, Edward Ndiritu speaks to msafiri.
Q Congratulations, Edward, on your award. Did you enjoy going to London to receive it?
The ceremony was amazing, and very memorable. I got a chance to meet celebs and VIPs. I visited Prince William at Kensington Palace, then went to the Houses of Parliament and saw the Prime Minister answering questions about security. At the Tower of London, I had not imagined so much history still to be seen. I got to see the whole city from the London Eye. I follow the English Premier League, and had a chance to watch Chelsea play Norwich – though I’m a Manchester United supporter!
Q When you were a child, was wildlife something you were already aware of?
Yes, it was. There were seven kids in my family and we used to walk to school together. I was the youngest and would stick close to my brothers as our route to the primary school took us through a forest, and you never knew what you might see. There were usually fresh elephant tracks and always buffalo dung along the path. I remember sometimes we would disturb a hyena… luckily they always ran off! But I wasn’t scared. Even as a small kid, I was always interested in wildlife. When I was old enough, I joined the Scouts, and really enjoyed camping in the forest.
Q Had you considered a career in wildlife while you were studying?
Not really. After school, I attended college, training as a mechanic. Then a friend told me that Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was recruiting rhino monitors. It sounded interesting and I applied – and was selected! I became a scout in a patrol team, following and reporting on the rhinos in the sanctuary. We carried all our equipment, rations and bedding, and slept in the bush.
Q How did your career progress from wildlife scout to Head of Security?
From rhino monitoring, I joined Lewa’s mobile Anti-Poaching Unit, and was promoted – first to corporal, and then up to third-in-command within the Unit. Then, in 2009, a rhino was shot in Lewa – our first poaching incident in 25 years. That was shocking enough, but when evidence began to point to the head of Anti-Poaching and his deputy being in league with the poachers, they were dismissed. I was promoted to command the Unit. Lewa and Northern Rangelands Trust began channelling funding into intensive wildlife security training. The teams were given Police Reservist status and armed, to work in conjunction with the Kenya Police and Kenya Wildlife Service. We also now have the support of our own tracker dog unit.
Q There must be times when you and your men find yourselves in danger?
Yes, tragically, in 2014, we lost one member of one of the rapid response teams – killed during a follow-up to a breach of security. It was terrible – we all felt it – we suffered as a team.
Q What advice would you give other young Kenyans following a career like yours?
Being a ranger is very rewarding but it also has its challenges and is often dangerous. Rangers should know that they are not in this fight alone, and they should never give up.
Q Do you ever lose heart when – despite all your teams’ efforts – you have to face yet another poached rhino or elephant? Can Kenya’s wildlife really be saved, forever?
Well, in December 2012, despite all our efforts, Lewa lost rhinos, but we didn’t give up. If we continue with the effort we have put in since then (we haven’t lost another rhino) and also continue to get the support needed from the government, things can improve.
TUSK TRUST AWARDS CALL FOR 2016 NOMINATIONS!
• Prince William Award for Conservation In Africa
• Tusk Award for Conservation In Africa
• Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award