Raptorman is conservation hero

Posted by ap507 at May 15, 2018 12:46 PM |
International accolade for University of Leicester graduate whose mission is to save vultures

Issued by University of Leicester 15 May 2018

Photographs Dr Munir Virani receiving the award and images of his prize-winning work available to download at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/meh8l22dnadfqyp/AACFcVTPUBs93Vr6J0P3gix5a?dl=0

A University of Leicester graduate has been honoured by HRH Princess Royal for his conservation work.

Dr Munir Virani, gained a Master’s degree in 1994 and a PhD in 2000, then under the supervision of Professor Emeritus David Harper.

The 25th Anniversary Whitley Awards Ceremony was held at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The Ceremony was hosted by WFN Ambassador, Kate Humble, with the Whitley Awards presented to the winners by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in front of over 600 guests.

Dr Virani won the Whitley Award in Conservation donated by WWF-UK for his project: Game of poisons: a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures.

Bowled over by raptors, Munir swapped his early prospects of work in a bank and cricketing ambitions for a lifetime studying raptors (birds of prey). In the past decade this has been focussed upon understanding the drivers of vulture declines in Asia and Africa, to inform conservation action. He leads The Peregrine Fund’s Africa programme. His recent successful scheme to mitigate vulture poisoning by engaging indigenous communities in the Maasai Mara saw cases drop by nearly 50% in 2016 and he is now poised to scale this up.

He said: “Our project offers solutions that safeguard people’s way of life, enables champions, and takes on a continent-wide threat that is unprecedented for any other species.”

Dr Virani said studying at Leicester was inspirational and helped him further his knowledge and career – bringing his expertise to bear on conservation work.

He said: “I conducted my Master’s study at Leicester between 1993 and 1994 and then my PhD study there between 1995 and 1999, gaining a Doctorate in Biomedical Sciences and Medicine. Both my degrees were by research which enabled me to conduct extensive fieldwork on birds of prey in Kenya and then return to Leicester to write up my theses.

“I was incredibly blessed to have Dr David Harper as my supervisor. He and his wife Maureen took me under their wing and gave me tremendous support, both personal and academic – as did the University - that enabled me to successfully complete my graduate studies at Leicester. Whilst at Leicester, I was also fortunate to be able to play Cricket and Squash for the University Team that enabled me to travel to different parts of the UK.”

Growing up in Nairobi, Dr Virani was engrossed with playing cricket and he has also now developed a fervent interest in wildlife and photography.  He has over 20 years of experience in conservation and research on birds of prey in Africa and Asia. He is the Vice-President of The Peregrine Fund, a global NGO dedicated to saving endangered birds of prey around the world.

Dr Virani said: “My research interests lie in finding effective solutions for global conservation problems and developing strategic conservation plans. I have more than 15 years of experience working in the Masai Mara on birds of prey, with local communities and other conservation partners.  In 2002, I was awarded the Aga Khan Foundation award for excellence in the Field of Science and Technology by His Highness Prince Amyn Mohamed Aga Khan. I have published over 150 scientific and popular articles. I have supervised 20 students for graduate degrees. In 2007, I was awarded a prestigious prize for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in a competition organized by Twende Travel Magazine.

“I am a TED speaker and have also presented my work at global conferences. I am currently working on a Maasai conservation film called Empty Skies and a book about raptors worldwide. My recent film on African Fish Eagles of Lake Naivasha won the semi-finalist position at the Green Earth Film Festival in 2017.”

Dr Virani said he was both humbled and honoured to receive the Whitley Award for Conservation (2018): “Winning this award would not have been possible without the inspiration I have received from my seniors and my colleagues, for whom I have the deepest respect, and from whom I have derived the strength to challenge myself and perform better at each stage. Most importantly, this award is for those voiceless vultures who have endured so much since the dawn of civilization.

“I must also pay tribute to the enormous contributions and sacrifices made by my family, my colleagues at The Peregrine Fund and in Kenya without which, none of this would have been possible and I certainly wouldn’t be standing here now. This award is as much for them, as it is for me, but most importantly, it is dedicated to our planet’s biodiversity, those that cannot speak for themselves but deserve our greatest attention.”

Professor Harper said: “It was a great privilege to supervise such an enthusiastic and serious student in such magnificent surroundings as the forests and savannahs of Africa, during the early phase of my 35-year research programme in Kenya. That led to collaboration which continued until 2014, when I retired, on my long-term study of the African Fish Eagle at Lake Naivasha.”

Notes to editors:

Photographs of the ceremony and reception can be found here and photographs of the winners receiving their awards, along with images of their work can be found here.


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