Biophilic Conversations is a foundation formed with an aim to inspire change among the young conservation community in Africa to protect the environment. This platform raises awareness on conservation not only in Kenya but the entire world. Through sharing conservation stories, we are able to formulate the language of the conservation community. The youth can, therefore, shape themselves in a conversational process with the power to connect.
At Biophilic Conversations, we host biophilic talks with an aim to tell a story about how the environmental conservationist got involved in a certain conservation field and environmental scene, create a network of young conservationist in the country, showcasing the hero’s in environmental conservation and encourage people to be involved in conservation agendas. We also offer training and mentorship and host high school and university alumni edition.
This interview explores how Mercy Kariuki, an environmental conservationist, got involved in the conservation field. She also shares her journey, environmental activism, her view, and the idea of using a solution narrative. Here we got to create a network by interviewing a Kenyan conservationist with an interest in community conservation work In Africa. It is important to learn about the efforts of our local conservationists.
Meet Mercy Kariuki
Ms. Mercy Kariuki is a young Kenyan conservationist with an interest in community conservation work in Africa. She is currently a student at the University of Cambridge reading MPhil in Conservation Leadership. She loves outdoor activities such as bird watching, hiking, and mountain climbing with the recent climb being to Mount Kilimanjaro.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Enthusiastic, self-driven, and ambitious
How did you start your journey into conservation, research, environmental work, sustainability, environmental activism?
Growing up in Nairobi, I loved the hustle and bustle of the city and always found the distinctive sounds, sights, and smells so intriguing to me. However, it was not until my teenage years in high school that I truly fell in love with nature. My boarding school was situated on the Kinangop Plateau in the Rift Valley and the cool, highland air, the small herds of sheep grazing on the plains, and the chirping of birds always seemed to have a calming effect on me. I was smitten.
When did you realize you have to do something to protect the environment? Why did you not choose a more lucrative career path like medicine, accountant, pilot, etc. but choose a career geared towards protecting the environment and working with people to do the same.
I realized I had a passion for environmental protection when I was in High school and I started by initiating an environmental club. The club’s main mission then was to keep the school compound clean. That’s when I knew, I would enroll for an environmental course afterward.
What steps did you take to pursue a career in conservation?
After high school, I enrolled for a Bachelor in Environmental Sciences at the Kenyatta University where I signed up as a volunteer with Nature Kenya, one of Kenya’s oldest environmental conservation societies. As a volunteer, I participated in the society’s biannual bird censuses as well as in excursions to educate school children on nature and conservation. Besides undertaking my BSc, I graduated from the same university with an MSc in Environmental Science and taken up other training programmes including; Tropical Biology Association field course, TZ 2015, Annual Darwin Scholarship programme: Monitoring and Communicating Biodiversity, UK, 2015, Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS), UK, 2017 and Kinship Conservation Fellowship, USA, 2019.
My passion for conservation activities in university saw me selected to travel to Canada and participate in an international exchange program organized by Canada World Youth for six months. During the program, I organized and participated in sensitization sessions aimed at emphasizing proper disposal of solid waste alongside students from the University of Winnipeg and regularly worked on the community kitchen garden. This experience exposed me to the leading global partnership conservation organization i.e. BirdLife International. I have worked with BirdLife International for seven years with my last role as a Local Engagement and Empowerment Officer. My role was supporting partners across Africa in coordinating community-conservation projects and driving engagement. I also strive to ensure that local communities are included in decision-making relating to conservation efforts.
What tactics do you find most useful in inspiring change among people?
Understanding that conservation is not primarily about biology but people and the choices they make.
What challenges have you faced in the conservation career field from family, friends, employers, seeing wildlife in peril, environmental issues?
At first, some of my friends did not understand why I chose a career in conservation as opposed to other ‘high’ profile careers. However, with time they came to appreciate that working as a conservationist is as equally important as other careers. When it comes to conservation issues, one of the main challenges faced includes getting financial support to implement habitat/species restoration projects. However, one must not be discouraged by insufficient funds, but work in partnership and collaboration with others who have a common conservation goal.
What are you more interested in now?
How have mentors been a part of growing your environmental conservation and sustainability career journey?
I have always been inspired by the late Prof. Wangari Mathaai’s dedication to environmental conservation. In particular, this quote from her “There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments” keeps me going. However, I am now privileged to have Flora and Fauna International (FFI’s) CEO as my mentor.
What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Looking into the future, I see myself taking up leadership roles in helping shape sustainable conservation initiatives amongst local communities across Africa.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the environmental conservation community in Kenya and Africa in general?
Yes. Youth engagement in environmental matters from policy to practical work is increasing which is a good sign to ensure conservation efforts are successful.
What advice would you give to the upcoming young conservationist?
Being honest and brave in all your doings.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of my proudest achievements has been successfully raising funds for a community-conservation project in Kinangop through the Njabini Wool Crafters (NWC) which is a youth-led conservation-focused co-op that aims at building an economically viable organization while at the same time driving conservation of the Kinangop Plateau Grasslands, home to the critically endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw bird species. NWC provides training and skills development in the areas of wool product design, spinning and weaving to young people in the Kinangop area, and works closely with farmers to enhance their income from sheep farming. You can find out more about the projects here; Empowering Sheep Farmers to Contribute to Conservation of Sharpe’s Longclaw, Sheep for Sharpe’s Longclaw, and Njabini Wool Crafts.
Are you a young conservationist in Africa and need advice in exploring your career, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources. Mercy Kariuki and others could be your mentors. Start here!