Getting wings to save the rhino

2012-03-03 00:00

A KENYAN man who walked 100 km to look for a job in conservation is learning to fly so he can take to the skies to protect rhinos in his country.

John Pameri has methodically worked his way to the top without cutting corners.

“At the end of the day it was not about being a pilot. It was my love of wildlife that inspired me to become a pilot.

“I come from a poor background, but I did not let that get in my way. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I started on the ground, now I’m in the air, but I’m still doing the same thing,” he said.

The 38-year-old Pameri is the chief security officer at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

He has been with the conservancy since 1992, when he walked 100 km from his home in northern Nairobi to look for a job. Pameri said it was not easy for him as a Maasai because the tribe does not put a premium on formal education, rather focusing on looking after livestock.

“For us livestock is the main currency, so my father did not have the requisite funds to help me further my education and he never seemed keen on it,” he said.

Pameri has been in Pietermaritzburg since November training for his private pilot’s licence at the Pietermaritzburg Flight Training Centre under the tutelage of Brett Dugdale. He has been in South Africa before, having done a natural resources management certificate at the South African Wildlife College in 2007, which he passed with distinction.

Pameri said the thought of flying came to him when the CEO of the conservancy moved out and left no one to pilot the plane.

“There was a plane available and since I could not be away from the work for a long time because of my position, the CEO urged me to do a pilot’s course and forgo the diploma I intended to do through the scholarship I received. It was scary, but I received encouragement from people close to me and I haven’t looked back,” he said.

Pameri said he only started flying in January because of inclement weather when he arrived and undertook his first solo flight on February 7, which he said was exhilarating. Like any other new skill, he admitted it was difficult to get to grips with the basics.

“When I landed after my first solo I was very impressed with myself because once I started flying with Brett, I knew my time would come. I have now completed my circuit training and I am now starting on my general flying and instrument training.”

Pameri said he recognised the problems facing South African game rangers with rhino poaching. He said in Kenya they face the same problem, but not on the same scale.

“If South Africa is losing rhinos, Africa is also losing rhino. The government needs to work more closely with the authorities to curb the poaching. There are three key points that have been fuelling poaching here: the laws here are too lenient, the market is too widespread and the reserves are not in touch with the communities. If they could tighten up on those three points, they may not eliminate poaching, but it will go a long way in curbing it.”

• khanyiso.tswaku@sa.24.com

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