Raptorman is conservation hero

A Leicester graduate has been honoured by HRH Princess Royal for his conservation work to save vultures.

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 and 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.

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.

“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 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.