Munir Virani was born and raised in Nairobi Kenya. As a teenager, cricket took up most of his time. He was fortunate to play for one of the top cricketing clubs in Kenya for which the rewards for winning a tournament were usually a couple of nights in Kenya's elite game reserves and national parks. He utilized these visits to nurture and cultivate his interest in wildlife.
He continued to play cricket with a great deal of passion, and with tours and competitions, Munir just managed to secure a place at Moi University for a Bachelor's degree in Wildlife Management. This was short-lived as he missed his cricket and decided to transfer to Nairobi University where he could study and play cricket at the same time. However, in 1990 when he was selected for the Kenya Cricket Team to represent Kenya in the ICC World Cup in Holland, he knew he had to make a decision and ultimately chose studies over cricket. He always maintains that this was the best decision he ever made.
He graduated with First Class Honors in Zoology and was selected by The Peregrine Fund to train as a raptor biologist under the legendary Simon Thomsett. Munir registered at the University of Leicester (U.K.) and did his Master's degree on the endangered Sokoke Scops Owl. He successfully completed his Ph.D research at the University of Leicester (U.K) where his research focused on Augur Buzzards at Lake Naivasha.
In 2000, Munir was sent to South Asia by The Peregrine Fund to evaluate the magnitude of declines of populations of Gyps vultures in the region. He set up a team of biologists and technical staff in India, Nepal and Pakistan and established a successful field and diagnostic research project that helped to identify the pharmaceutical drug diclofenac as the cause of the catastrophic crash of vulture populations there. Munir also directs raptor research projects in Africa.
Munir is a member of the Board of Directors of the Raptor Research Foundation whilst also serving on Kenya's Bird Committee, the Raptor Working Group and Associate Editor for the African Journal of Ornithology - Ostrich.
In 2002, Munir was awarded the Aga Khan Foundation award for excellence in the Field of Science and Technology by His Highness Prince Amyn Mohamed.
Munir has published over 100 scientific and popular articles including a paper in the esteemed journal Nature. In 2007, he was awarded a prize for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in a competition organized by Twende Travel Magazine.
He currently lives in Nairobi with his wife and two sons. His interests are cricket, squash, raptor watching and photography.
2018 WHITLEY AWARD (Click for video)
Munir receives the award from Anne, Princess Royal, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
GAME OF POISONS: A STRATEGY TO SAVE KENYA’S THREATENED VULTURES
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is renowned for its wildlife: lion, elephant, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe. Encircling them all is an overlooked guardian – the vultures, comprising six threatened species, four of them Critically Endangered. This “clean-up crew” is vital to the health and hygiene of the plains. Referred to locally as “Serengeti soap,” these scavengers swiftly consume rotting carcasses, preventing the spread of disease. However the value of vultures is only really understood once they start disappearing.
Suffering a precipitous decline in numbers of over 70% in 30 years, East African vultures are collateral damage in the war between livestock herders and predators. In retaliation for the loss of livestock to big cats, farmers resort to poisoning carcasses in the hope of reducing predator numbers. The subsequent incidental killing of vultures is catastrophic, with effects reverberating throughout the entire ecosystem.
Bowled over by raptors, Munir swapped his early cricketing ambitions for a lifetime studying the drivers of vulture declines in Asia and Africa to inform conservation action. He now leads The Peregrine Fund’s Africa program. His successful scheme to mitigate vulture poisoning by engaging communities in the Masai Mara saw cases drop by nearly 50% in 2016 and he is now poised to scale up.
MUNIR’S PROJECT WILL:
Expand into Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley, focusing on reducing poisoning in five high-risk areas.
Work with pastoralists and an alliance of NGOs to reduce livestock predation using predator deterrents and fortified livestock enclosures.
Train 30 conservation leaders to champion anti-poisoning programmes in their communities and respond to incidents.
Tag 20 vultures to increase understanding of habitat use, monitor fatalities and target future conservation interventions.
WHY IT MATTERS:
The project will serve as a model for other African countries.
Munir is training the next generation of leaders to drive campaigns throughout Kenya.
A poisoning incident killed 40 vultures in early 2018, making this work urgent.
“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.”