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PAUL KIRUI : The Masai Mara

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audio My Life in the Mara [audio]

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meet Paul Kirui

Paul grew up  a herdsboy, but dreamed of becoming a top safari guide

Paul Kirui - Masai Mara, Kenya [2008 ©]
Paul grew up  a herdsboy, but dreamed of becoming a top safari guide

Paul Kiprono Kirui is chairman of the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association and one of fewer than ten accredited Gold standard guides in Kenya. He is a role model for guides, especially in Kenya, and his story, which begins with him as a herdsboy on the plains of the Masai Mara, is an amazing one. To achieve his dream of becoming a guide ‘and not just a guide, but a great guide’ required astonishing tenacity. Sharply discouraged by his family, who thought his childhood ambition was a foolish impossibility, he nevertheless put himself through education and worked, for many years, to achieve his goal. His story reminds me of others who through their persistence and commitment to education have achieved their dreams and become inspirational leaders.

Paul Kirui - Masai Mara, Kenya [2006 ©] - Paul Kirui - The Masai Mara - Great Guides

Paul was born in Kilgoris, close to the unfenced Masai Mara reserve, where wild animals are common and the nearest town far distant. From the age of 5 Paul was expected to herd animals, first goats, and later cattle. At certain times of the year, 70% of the wildlife is outside of the reserve. Herding in an area where Big Cats and Wild Dogs are common requires considerable bravery.

Paul's father taught him to understand the wild

His father taught him tracking, signs and alarm calls, the necessary skills to survive in the wild and predict the movement of predators and large animals: the sight of an ox-pecker taking off might indicate rhino or buffalo approaching. At night, elephants would come to eat in the fields around his village, and had to be driven away. So his youth gave him plenty of experience of the wild.

Paul loved to be close to nature and to watch birds and wildlife. He grew up envious of the guides who drove trucks across the dusty plains, taking tourists on safari. He remembers, when he was still very young, seeing a UTC truck, with black and white zebra stripes, and deciding then he wanted to be a safari guide. But his family were hostile. It was a job for the educated, and not in their tradition. Paul took himself to school, trained as a driver, a mechanic, paid his own way through guiding courses, and tried and tried again to get a job in the safari industry. Finally, in his mid-20s, he was offered a trainee-ship with a mobile safari company, and his big break came after two years when CCA (now &Beyond) took him for training in South Africa at the famous Phinda Reserve.

When CCA established operations in Tanzania, Paul helped establish the Mwewe guiding school in the Serengeti. He also worked at their top camps in the Mara. His career progressed to become the senior ranger for a chain of safari lodges in Kenya, and he became a freelance guide in 2009. But this is only part of Paul’s impressive story. The Mara vulture monitoring project he established in the late ’90s has become a major research initiative backed by the National Museums of Kenya and the Peregrine Fund. This project was featured on the BBC in October 2008.

Paul Kirui | vulture - Masai Mara, Kenya [2006 ©] - Paul Kirui - The Masai Mara - Great Guides
Paul established the Mara Vulture monitoring project

Paul Kirui - Masai Mara, Kenya [2006 ©] - Paul Kirui - The Masai Mara - Great GuidesEducation has remained close to Paul’s heart, and he continues to take short courses to deepen his knowledge. The Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association (KPSGA) has rigorous standards. He did his bronze level in 1997 and silver in 2001. Fewer than 10 people have presently achieved Gold Level, and Paul was one of the first five. Paul works as a visiting lecturer at guiding colleges. He is adamant that the standard of guiding in Kenya must continue to rise.
Paul was an advisor to the BBC's 'Big Cat Live' series

He is now chairman of the KPSGA and helps set their exams. Paul also works with the BBC, especially the annual Big Cat Live program,particularly helping behind the scenes to track leopards and advise the film crews. He is also a photographer, whose work appears in postcards, brochures and wildlife magazines.

For a related article read about Pauls's friend and colleague Jackson Ole Looseyia and the Big Cats of the Mara.

Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 31 Oct 2010
Location: East Africa | Kenya
Themes: natural world, travel | fauna, conservation, bird, parks and trails, safari guide

Roddy Bray on 07 Sep 2011

Wow Paul, this is a great article which surely describes the passion and professionalism you display on the field, not only for your clients, but for reserchers and fellow guides as well. Keep the fire burning!!!!!!! By Magazine

Roddy Bray on 07 Sep 2011

Wow Paul!!!!! wonderful story and I wish there were a lot of people like you around for a better world! Rafaella

Wonderful, Paul. So proud of being able to call you my friend in addition to knowing you as a great guide and great human.