Profile: Horris Wanyama, EDGE Fellow

ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme invests in conservation at a grass-roots level by helping aspiring conservationists in developing countries to take the lead in researching and conserving their local EDGE species.

The application period is now open for the 2017 cycle of EDGE Fellowships. Horris Wanyama, one of our current EDGE Fellows, tells us how his uncle inspired his interest in working for wildlife.

Horris Wanyama, EDGE Fellow

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
30 years ago, in an agricultural-based remote town of Bungoma in the Western part of Kenya, the world witnessed a unique twist of fate. The birth of a military lieutenant made conservationist. Locals call him rhinoceros lawyer. 

Born and raised in a family of military parents, conservation was never my passion, I always dreamt of walking my parents’ path. Then one day during my teenage years, I visited my uncle, a wildlife ranger in the largest park in Kenya-Tsavo National Park. He walked me through the theatre of the wild and I developed a love for wildlife. 

Then the unforgettable night came. My uncle went out for rhino protection duties, never to return again. He was killed by poachers while protecting the voiceless rhinos. That was the day I developed an urge to finish what my uncle died trying to do… venturing in rhino conservation.

I studied Wildlife Management and did lots of volunteering with the same species in Kenya. Currently, I am working for Kenya Wildlife Service (a government conservation agency) as a Research Assistant, stationed at Tsavo West National Park. I am one of the key people in rhino monitoring in the area having conducted various research activities while creating a synergy between security, park management and local communities.  

How did you hear about the EDGE Fellowship and what were you doing before you became an EDGE Fellow?
As a Research Assistant, I was once making monthly presentations on rhino monitoring to park management and stakeholders. ZSL wanted to understand the rhino monitoring protocols and invest in the park. ZSL Kenya’s Conservation Manager was happy with my zeal and enthusiasm in rhino conservation. He therefore enlightened me on the importance of EDGE in sharpening young conservationist’s research skills and encouraged me to apply for the Fellowship. 

Which animal or areas do you specialise in or work on?
I am working on the only remaining species of Critically Endangered black rhino in Kenya – the eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli). This is being carried out in two main rhino areas of the Tsavo Conservation Area; the largest park located in the southern park of Kenya.

What is the focus of your EDGE Fellowship and what made you want to study in your current field?
Despite the eastern black rhino having being declared Critically Endangered, no detailed research with regard to modern monitoring techniques has been conducted on this species. In the past, most of the research has been on species and ecological monitoring, hence the formulation of my EDGE Fellowship to focus on improving knowledge of black rhino population dynamics, not only to the park management and conservation donors but to the local communities as well. 

What is the best thing about your job/role?
There is nothing better than self-satisfaction; doing what you feel you are good at. Rhino conservation is very fulfilling. I am contented to having achieved what my late uncle died trying to do. I feel an unexplainable thrill whenever I see a rhino cow walking with an innocent calf in a peaceful quite wilderness.

Secondly, as a researcher, I happen to work with a variety of stakeholders from conservation donors, local communities, park management and rangers. This interaction improves my networking and knowledge of wildlife conservation. 

Have there been any particular highlight during your Fellowship so far? 
Yes, four key things stand out:

  1. Park management and local stakeholders have positively embraced the execution of my EDGE Fellowship project after being aware of my conservation tool training course in Madagascar.
  2. Park rangers are actively participating in data collection after a series of training on proper rhino monitoring.
  3. A recognition to be a member of African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of IUCN.
  4. The attraction of more conservation donors willing to invest on modern rhino monitoring in Tsavo Area.

How important do you think the Fellowship is to support conservation, especially local conservation?
The package of this Fellowship offers participants the rare opportunity to learn a holistic approach to addressing contemporary biodiversity conservation issues through the conservation tool training and execution of individual projects. The conservation tool training offers participants the chance to gain detailed conceptual understanding in biodiversity conservation as well as hands-on field experience. It provides the best platform for capacity development.

Furthermore, the Fellowship allows young conservationists to network with renowned expertise in the field of biodiversity conservation as well as upcoming conservation biologists. 

Find out more about the EDGE Fellowship