The first time Melinda and I traveled to Africa more than 25 years ago, we went to see the wildlife. The elephants, giraffes, and one of my favorites—bonobos—are among the continent’s greatest treasures. Sadly, many African animals are at risk from poachers and threats to their habitats.
Thanks to Daniel Zuma, a young pilot, many of Kenya’s elephants and other wildlife are getting the protection they need.
Daniel, 28, is a wildlife conservation pilot for Wildlife Works, a conservation organization in Kasigau, Kenya.
For many years, Daniel’s community, located between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, was at odds with the wildlife that that moved between the parks. Poachers roamed freely and families clear cut trees for charcoal, putting wildlife at risk. One person working as a poacher was Daniel’s father, who depended on killing wildlife to support his family.
Then in 1998, Wildlife Works and the local community established a wildlife sanctuary that helps members of the community find alternative sources of income. In the years since, residents have been trained as rangers to protect the wildlife. Others got involved in eco-tourism projects. The community also launched a workshop to make handicrafts to sell to visitors.
As a boy growing up in Kasigau, Daniel always dreamed of being a pilot. His friends told him his dream was silly. He was too poor to become a pilot. But when Wildlife Works heard about his passion for flying he earned a scholarship to high school and college. Later, he was sent to the United Kingdom for flight lessons. He recently earned his license to pilot an ultralight gyrocopter.
Each morning, Daniel patrols the wildlife sanctuary doing wildlife counts and keeping an eye out for poachers. Poaching in the region has fallen dramatically in recent years thanks to the improved monitoring by Daniel and other conservation partners in the area.
Daniel’s achievements have made him a celebrity in his community. Many children in his village now want to follow in his footsteps and help protect Africa’s wildlife for generations to come.