My father's job as a ranger led me into wildlife conservation

An awareness sticker launched by Coast Conservationist Silas David Ekesa to raise funds for his admission to the UK based Sheffield University . The Mombasa based 32 year old launched the sticker "Stop Throwing wastes through Car Window" for Motorists to help raise funds that will enable him pursue a Master of Science course on Environmental change and International development at the UK University. [PHOTO BY MAARUFU MOHAMED/STANDARD].
For six years now I have dedicated myself in the fight against wildlife poaching and environmental conservation thanks to my father.

It all started as a child at the age of 12 when I visited my father, a ranger at Karura forest where he worked for over 12 years protecting the animals from poachers.

I was curious why my dad and his colleagues always carried guns with them until one day he explained to me it was to keep the animals safe from people who had ill intentions of killing them.

My interest and passion in conservation began when I visited the Nairobi National Park on a family tour, I could not get enough of the amazing beauty and information about wildlife especially the Elephants and Rhinos.

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I grew up wanting to become a ranger like my father, but later learnt that I did not have to hold a gun to protect the elephants. And although dad encouraged me to pursue a course that would help protect the wildlife he had reservations about me becoming a ranger.

His fears boils from his encounter with poachers at Laikipia West where they had gone to offer reinforcement to Anti-Stock Theft Unit in Baringo only to be attacked on their way back near Ol-Jorrok by a gang of poachers who had been terrorizing both wildlife and pastoralists.

So in 2012 after graduating from Moi University with a Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Management course I got involved in the campaign and fight against poaching of elephants and conservation of bird species.

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I have been on the ground working with wildlife and conservation organizations like Nature Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service KWS and Kenya Forest Service and communities living next to the wildlife parks to ensure that the future generations see and enjoy the beautiful wildlife and preserve Kenya's famous five 'Pride of Africa.'

As a researcher working with Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, I am currently working on an anti-poaching campaign with schools around Arabuko-Sokoke forest where they carry out surveys on Typical Jumbo elephants and the rare Terrestrial and Wader birds.

SEE ALSO :Extend wildlife policies beyond protected areas

I am also involved on sustainable development goals sensitization program in institutions around Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Taita Taveta.

Our target in anti-poaching campaigns is young unpolluted minds because we want them to learn sustainability and conservation first thing. With time we believe their attitude will change positively and they will have the passion for conservation.

The survey involves bringing together schools around Arabuko-Sakoke forest and giving them a walk along randomly selected transects within the forest to give them a hands on experience of the dangers and pain of poaching and the future implications.

We remove the elephants from snare traps together with students in order to teach them how to do it, highlight alternative livelihood for the community and convene for a brief on the negative effects of poaching. We then task them to go back and impart the same knowledge on the negative effects of poaching.

In two years we have been able to reach over 300 students with five sessions considering one survey has a maximum of five transects covering about two kilometers and each session starts at 8am and winds at 3 pm.

Among the schools that have benefited from the surveys include Mwanga Girls, Nyari Primary, Sokoke Secondary, Roka Secondary, Nyarenya Secondary and Vitengeni Primary.

We have tree nursery establishment in schools around the forest where the students are taught to grow indigenous species that are used to restock the forest.

When the seedlings are ready for transplantation, we purchase from schools and engage wildlife club members from the same schools to replant the seedlings on the edge of the forest where we can take care of them.

We also endeavor to establish ponds in schools through conducting workshops that focus on fish farming and even though financial resources has been a problem, schools like Ronald Ngala Secondary have benefited.

One way of minimizing on illegal tree logging particularly for charcoal especially in Ganze that is now facing a prolonged drought, locals are trained on making charcoal briquettes.

The technology utilizes tree branches that can easily regenerate when cut instead of cutting down the whole tree. This effort has been well directed in Ganze at Bamba Secondary with the help of Kilifi County government where other schools learn how to make the briquettes.

We have engaged the community on a different level by providing them with an alternative means of income to push them away from poaching as a source of income.

The major cause of poaching by these communities is normally to get food or income. So we try to fill the loopholes that cause this pressure such as money for school fee, fuel and alternative protein sources such as chicken and rabbit rearing.

I remember while working in Laikipia Nature Conservancy on elephant mortality survey, we would come across many rotting elephant carcasses and some fresh entangled ones in traps because the area has a heavy poaching rate.

There is heavy poaching in Laikipia West where there are many extensive ranches and grazing communities of Pokot, Samburu and Maasai. I had tough times maneuvering very tough terrains over long distance to GPS mark the mortality area.

Most of the typical Jumbo elephants in Arabuko-Sokoke forest are shy and to get their population numbers and foraging pattern, we are forced to do the Desnare survey after 6 pm because of illegal activities.

I also boost of a certificate in Fundamentals of Ornithology (study of birds) from Elsamere Field Study Centre in Naivasha where I was equipped with knowledge on bird identification by sight, call and singing.

This special training course organised annually by A-Rocha Kenya, National Museum of Kenya, Nature Kenya and Birdlife International offers knowledge on how to identify different bird moulting patterns, migration pattern and geographical distribution.

When I joined A-Rocha as a conservation research assistant, we researched on both Terrestrial and Wader birds that are rare species.

I learnt through experience and it was tough getting analytical data on population numbers, roosting grounds, feeding and breeding behavior and range being a leader of Indian House Crow project.

Terrestrial birds are often found in the forests and grasslands while Wader birds are frequent in creeks and swamps.

These birds are alien species that invade and claim territory by killing other birds and eating their eggs and even the chicks.

They are a nuisance and information was needed to check on their population numbers to curb the menace.

I have also been actively focusing on endangered birds like Amani Sunbird that is endemic in Sokoke forest.

I was honored to be part of 2012 team that unraveled the breeding site of endangered Clarke's Weaver bird at the swamps of Dakatcha woodlands north of Malindi the first ever in history.

Now I look forward to joining a post graduate degree at The University of Sheffield for two years Masters of Science in Environmental Change and International Development course.

However I face a challenge of paying the 1000 pounds per semester and risks missing on the classes commencing in September 2017.

This is a once in a life time opportunity and I really don't want to miss it because I have applied for scholarships in this field for a long time. I am doing all I can to raise the money but I would appeal for help from well-wishers too because I am yet to raise even a quarter of the fees.

The little stipend I get from working with the organizations is not enough to sustain me through the master's program.

After my master's degree I intend to focus on strategies to implement the already laid out policies that will reconcile the conflict between humans and wildlife.

Communities living around wildlife parks should understand that they are the primary stakeholders and change the attitude that the animals belong to Kenya Wildlife Service KWS.

I have the knowledge and experience, but what is lacking is the empowerment and will to execute the laid policies to protect the environment.

If I was the president, I would freeze all human activities around the echo system zones to allow restoration and balance in the environment.

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