When did you know you were destined for the wild?
I have a lot of passion for wildlife management. This seed was planted in primary school and I found myself in the Wildlife club but my break happened after high school. Since I graduated from campus, I don’t know any other job. Surprisingly, I was a mathematician and was eyeing a degree in economics, but I was admitted to Egerton University to pursue Natural Resource Management. After interacting with the course, taking a few field trips, I totally forgot about math and economics, specialized in Wildlife Management in third year.

Thereafter, I interned at the National Museums of Kenya and joined Kenya Wildlife Service KWS as a graduate trainee. Paramilitary training followed sooner because part of our job entailed managing game rangers. I was appointed Assistant Warden, Tsavo National Park and prompted to be incharge of the Hell’s Gate National Park before graduating to Nairobi National Park Senior Warden. I grew through the ranks to manage Amboseli National Park (stretching between Kiambu, Machakos, Makueni, Kajiado, all the way to Namanga). Then I went to the coastal region where I managed all the parks from Kwale to Lamu.

For the past 18 years, I worked within a state parastatal Kenya Wildlife Service until last year when I joined Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County still in wildlife management. My job at Mpala is Chief Operations, ensuring that the wheels are rolling, supervising day-to-today operations including staff, welfare, finances, resources and research. Where I am today, I know that seed has blossomed.

You will go down history books as the warden who took a Safari tour with Former First Lady of United States Melania Trump, how did it happen?

I worked in a prime park, Nairobi National Park, which is a showcase of Kenya. It is the shop window to showcase Kenya, a must-see for every VIP, (especially the ones who don’t have the luxury of time) and want to know what Kenya has to offer. As the senior warden at that time, I was privileged to Guide Melania Trump and it felt good to experience that moment with her, sharing the conservation story of our parks.

Tourists travel far and wide to enjoy wildlife heritage and sight-seeing yet there are Kenyans who are surprised that Nairobi National Park has lions; do you find this odd? 

For a long time, there was a misconception that tourism is foreign and a reserve of wazungu; that for one to enjoy these beautiful and scenic spaces in Kenya, they first have land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. That mindset is gradually changing, thanks to the curious minds of the younger generation because they are more exposed and adventurous. Social media has also helped to open up the beauty of this country. When COVID-19 happened, and we had to take a break from home lockdowns, the only place that was not crowded and was not a mall, was actually the park. People discovered wilderness therapy. The wild is a beautiful place, it rejuvenates you in a special way. Those who explore get connected and see wildlife in a different light.

Sometimes we take for granted what we have. Some people think it is normal to see lions roaming around a city until you tourists shed a tear for wildlife, then we realize that we are sitting on treasure. As conservationists, this is the motivation that keeps us going. Wildlife is precious and conservation is core, it drives mankind, tourism, agriculture and every development in any country. I worked in NairobI National Park when the infamous lion strayed from the park into Langata Road. Bad news travels fast but on the flip side, we received visitors who came to see the lions; many were actually surprised that they existed at the park.

A lot has been done by the government and other parties to market domestic tourism and we hope Kenyans will tembea Kenya more. That said, we need more awareness, more visitors to see these lovely species and scenic places in the country, it is very affordable. Bottom line; we have borrowed a good ecosystem from the generation to come and so we must deliver to them what we received from the previous generation by protecting habitats and wildlife by all means.

Without wildlife humans will not survive and without humans, wildlife will not survive. How would you describe this relationship?

Complicated. We all exist in the same space, which has never changed in terms of landmass. But we must be aware of the changes that have taken place over the years. Population growth, wildlife increase or decline and economic activities such as livestock farming. In Laikipia County for instance, livestock is our bank, our way of life. The same river used by livestock and humans is also used by elephants and lions. This means there’s more interaction, and areas of interface have increased. More interactions mean more conflict.

The government has tried to create awareness on this issue so that we can consider this interaction as co-existence rather than conflict. In coexistence however, there’s a need for a few adjustments. This is where organizations such as Mpala come in. To provide a living laboratory without the restrictions of a national park, allowing scientists to manipulate the environment and conduct landscape-level, controlled experiments to explore basic science, address real-world problems, and ensure that sustainable livelihoods and economic advancement are synonymous with wildlife conservation.

In a nutshell, the organization generates data, highlighting conflict areas in order to bring a lasting solution. That data is transferred to policy makers to interrogate possibilities such as areas to open up, animal corridors that still exist, planning and zoning. Using this information, the government is able to effectively allocate areas for settlement, agriculture and wildlife.

In terms of human-wildlife coexistence, we must start thinking about quality and not quantity. When this is factored into policy, guidelines and implementation, it leads to a better coexistence. There’s no way we will shoot all the animals and stay alive, neither will we die and leave the animals alone. Additionally, we cannot lose our livestock which to some communities is their livelihood. Somehow, we have to coexist. Think of it as having roommates with different schedules. The only way to cope is by setting rules and boundaries. As far as I am concerned, no one is leaving.

Let’s think of a young game warden or ranger who has been posted to Sibiloi National Park. How does she socialize, integrate family with work?

This is a question that lingers; it was also a point of concern for my parents when I was joining this industry. Truth is all protected areas, conservancies, wildlife areas are in remote areas; even Nairobi National Park is on the outskirts of the city. It is challenging; because in the African context, nurturing, mothering domestic work is often linked to women. Surprisingly, women in wildlife conservation don’t work feeling lesser than men. They work with a lot of passion, standards so that they are not seen as half men. They are diligent, patient and even smarter and resilient. They nurture at home and do the same for issues of conservation.

Employers should plan to help them integrate family and work, because if their family is not solid, they will not deliver at work. When we deploy, we take them to more friendly areas where they easily oscillate between home and work. Besides, their off days are strategically lined up so that we are more intentional and supportive. For challenging operations, we tend to deploy more men.

You have been a park warden, managed a conservation region and you are now in the NGO world. How is the transition?

 Transition is different and good. It is exciting seeing lots of science and the connection to wildlife. At Mpala, we do manipulative research unlike the protected areas where one is limited to what they can manipulate. Being in the NGO world having worked in a parastatal, I am amazed by how much we add value, collaborate and share valuable information with my former employer. Kenya Wildlife Service actually sits on the board of Mpala. Having been in the parastatal for 18 years, the transition is real. Compared to the government, this is a smaller organization where I am able to do much more and bring change quickly, because the spectrum of decision-making is very short.  I’m still in conservation and I am in the right place.

Conservation and gender violence; is there a connection?

Conservation is demanding and calls for a lot of commitment. Sometimes it calls for longer hours at work which can bring conflict at home if one is unable to juggle the two masters. Where that balance is broken, conflicts might arise including Gender-Based Violence. Meanwhile, the nature of our work can lead to stressful situations; if not managed well, it can trigger violence. Picture someone telling their spouse, sikuji nyumbani, the lions are on the loose in Nairobi. What do you think would be the end result?

You were a senior KWS commander and currently holding a senior position at Mpala Research Centre. What valuable lessons can you pass down to women aspiring for leadership?

I come from a relatively large family of girls and boys. My father always told us that there is no job for a woman, and there’s no job for a man. In our home, we all went to the kitchen. Even the men cooked. All of us went to the shamba. Based on this, I have never looked for sympathy or lesser duties. Growing up, I wanted to be smarter than the next guy around. Nothing is new on earth, it has been done and it can be done. My motivation is to have change and bring change. I am very keen on seeing other women grow by mentoring them. Other women shaped my destiny, gave me winning tips on matters of maternity, work-life balance, and handling transfers. That encouragement made me because if you are resistant to change you don’t grow. But growth is much easier for women who are supported by other women. Mentorship is everything and it is what women need.

Any highlights of your career?

When you do wildlife conservation, you get very passionate. I have worked in areas where we took care of rhinos, elephants and saw game rangers develop deep connections with animals to a point where they give them names and get affected when the animals fall sick or die. When I was in charge of Hell’s Gate National Park, we launched the Wheelbarrow race to engage and raise funds for conservation. This initiative got me a nomination to The Business Daily Top 40 under 40. I was extremely proud. Moreover, I was Nairobi National Park Senior Warden for six years. Managing Urban Park is not easy with many stakeholders, many national development projects coming up. Balancing to ensure your lions are not on the streets or out in the community. Managing the enthusiasts and friends of the park to ensure that everyone felt like they had a seat at the table. Thereafter, I managed Amboseli National Park before I went to the coastal region. I am equally proud to see young people at Mpala heading projects, doing excellent jobs. Yes, women can be in science, wildlife conservation and they can do it. Mpala Research Centre is a hub for experimental and manipulative research by visiting scientists and students.

There are young people who would not consider a future in wildlife conservation, claiming it is a risky job. What’s your message to them?

If you believe in the biblical creation story, you must know that on the fifth day God created water and sky animals and gave man dominion over them. If you ask me, this is a divine career, the first career.  But that’s on a light note. Seriously speaking, at one time, I was in their shoes. But look at me now over 18 years later, I’ve been around because this career is fulfilling. One is able to see the difference they are making. You can know that you are holding your money by your hand if you do the right thing. We need more seats at the table of conservation. Don’t fear being in the bush.