John Pameri: The class 8 dropout now head of security and pilot at Lewa Conservancy
John Pameri, 46, isn’t just the head of security at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, he is also a trained pilot.
But the silver lining in his life story is that in spite of dropping out of school at Class 8, he never gave up on his purpose: caring for wildlife.
Pameri narrated to Citizen TV his inspiring journey from a teenager clinging onto a dream to acquiring a pilot’s licence in his quest to raise awareness and protect endangered species.
It is often said that a pilot isn’t just an aviator, but also an artist in love with flight. For Pameri, taking to the skies above Kenya’s Northern rangelands isn’t just a job, but a purpose fuelled by the passion of a pastoralist who has lived alongside wildlife all his life.
“People speak, but wildlife doesn’t. I don’t think there is any other job I would do…until my life ends, it’s about conservation and wildlife, that is my bottomline,” he said.
But let’s take you back to the beginning of his story. In 1990, when he wrote his KCPE exam at the Ol Arjiju Primary School in Laikipia, he scored 321 out of a possible 700 marks then, in a class of 6 candidates.
He was called to different high schools in Embu, Meru and Gilgil, but unfortunately: “I waited for my parents to get money to take me to secondary school level, but they never managed to, so that was the end of my education.”
But two years later, in 1992, Pameri decided to change the course of his life: “I walked 100 km to Lewa Conservancy and they didn’t have a job but Ian Craig told me to come the following month and they would see if they could get something for me to do.”
He didn’t get the job immediately, he had to first volunteer as the sanctuary was expanding, particularly as a guarded black rhino sanctuary.
Part of his recruitment test to become a ranger included running for 20 km and carrying posts to test his aptitude and physical capability.
He was later trained as a ranger and had to master how to use arms, then he rose through the ranks to become an assistant deputy in charge of security.
In 1996, he would also undertake a natural resource management course in South Africa where he excelled with a distinction.
He says, “The same college gave me a scholarship…and I was awarded as the best student. Ian Craig, who was the director (of Lewa Conservancy) at that time decided that I don’t do the same course and, instead, take the pilot course. I said why not?”
His training began at the Pietermaritzburg Flight Training Centre, still in South Africa, with his first solo flight on February 7, 2012.
“I did my solo flight, got my South African licence, converted it to a Kenyan licence, I passed and continued flying,” he states.
“The community is really proud of me seeing how I’ve grown as a local. I’ve made a lot of trips to New York doing conference meetings and fundraising, and I’m pushing for other young people to follow my steps.”
Pameri is in charge of 87 staff including field rangers whose work involves wildlife management, managing human-wildlife conflict, security operations and escorts in the conservancy which stretches the Lewa landscape in Meru and Isiolo as well as Borana.
It’s a heavy task, one which his shoulders can bear. Often, his work requires him to travel abroad to also raise funds and awareness for conservation drives. He has been awarded for being critical in helping spearhead development across Lewa’s neighbouring area.
The desire to fly, as Wilbur Wright who co-invented the airplane said, was handed down by those who looked enviously at birds at full speed soaring above obstacles.
For Pameri, the desire to fly and flight of passage was driven by more:
“I don’t have secondary or university papers, but I managed to do everything. So I’m encouraging young people that let us not wait for the end to look at things we didn’t do. You need to commit yourself and have your focus and vision because you can do a lot.”