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  OBITUARY  

August 27 - September 02 , 1999

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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MICHAEL WERIKHE

AN EXTRAORDINARY WILDLIFE CONSERVATIONIST

Coastweek -- Those who knew Michael Werikhe well; those who are here today to pay their very special respects to a man of rare quality; knew him as a deeply caring man, an impeccably honest, modest, loyal friend and colleague.

But in the ways the outside world normally measures a person, Michael Werikhe was a very ordinary man.

And in many respects he led a very ordinary life.

So why did President Daniel arap Moi, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, U.N. Secretary General Perez de Cuelleur, the Rev Jesse Jackson, U.S. President George Bush, and Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh all want to meet this ordinary man, and shake his hand ?

He wasn't rich.

He wasn't powerful.

He wasn't a sporting superstar.

He wasn't a great scientist or writer or speaker or artist.

He didn't invent anything.

He was just an ordinary man.

From an ordinary home.

Doing an ordinary job.

Coastweek -- Michael Werikhe

From afar, here was one of life's most ordinary people, strolling down the road, wearing a funny little cap and carrying a rucksack in which he kept his pet python, stopping here and there to chat to people along the way.

So, why did several of the the most eminent leaders of the modern world notice this man who liked to slowly walk and quietly talk as he ambled across the surface of the earth during his time upon it.

Why did the Guinness Corporation, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Goldman Environmental Foundation, The Zoological Society of San Diego and the Kenya Wildlife Service bestow upon him their highest honours ?

Why did the Eddie Bauer Institute acclaim him as a member of their elite "Heroes of the Earth" ?

Why, among the hundreds, even thousands, of conservation organisations, societies, clubs, zoos, sanctuaries, environmentalists, sponsors, researchers and leaders of mankind's efforts to save wild animals in general and endangered species like the rhino in particular, was Michael Werikhe known and loved and respected the world over as: "The Rhino Man" ?

When that is the name that brings you to the door of State House, the White House, the U.N. Headquarters and Buckingham Palace, it is no mere nickname.

It is a title that carries recognition of a truly massive achievement.

It is a statement that here is the champion of a global cause, the symbol of a worldwide commitment, the standard-bearer of an international care and concern on a subject of importance to all mankind.

He did this with no special advantage of birth or wealth or education or special influence of any other kind.

He had only one special ingredient: a deeply caring concern in his heart for the natural things of the earth, and all the creatures upon it.

He did not seek glory or recognition, and was never much absorbed with accolades nor impressed by fame when it was thrust upon him.

His only ambition was to share his love of the wild, with anybody and with everybody, equally.

Back at work as a security supervisor at AVA, it made no difference whether he had just walked out of the bush or just met George Bush.

Coastweek -- Michael crossing the 'Greina Pass' in the Swiss Alps during his trans-Europe trek in aid of the African Rhino.

His work was exemplary, and he continued to give his superiors, his colleagues and his subordinates his open-hearted friendship, his honest respect - no more than he would give to a barefoot toto; no less than he would give to the president of the United States.

His modesty and his integrity brings to mind the words of Rudyard Kipling's great poem . . .

"If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
And talk with kings nor lose the common touch. . ."

Michael Werikhe might never have read those lines, but he lived them, more literally and more completely, than any man I know.

So genuine was Michael Werikhe's character and mission, I suspect that in his quiet personal moments and with his children Acacia and Kora, he never reflected:

"look at me, ordinary Michael Werikhe, meeting presidents and royalty".

And by that very real and very true self-effacement he turned the tables on the high and the mighty.

He wasn't meeting them with pride.

They were meeting him, perhaps with envy.

And by that very real and very true self-effacement he turned the tables on the high and the mighty.

He wasn't meeting them with pride. They were meeting him, perhaps with envy.

He was not for one moment deterred by the fact that with nothing he might get nowhere.

His life's philosopy, I believe, was:"Perhaps there is very little I can do. But I will do whatever little I can."

With that quiet determination, he took the first and every succeeding step of his walk through life, for 46 years.

And as all of us here well know, he achieved much; in large part because he did not waste one atom of his scarce resources in achieving anything for himself.

His every care, his every thought, and his every act, was for others. Therein lies the meaning of Michael Werikhe.

Coastweek -- MADE IT ... Michael after crossing the 'Greina Pass' in the Swiss Alps.

Much more than any conservation specifics or awards or achievements, the message Michael Werikhe carried through the world, and the gift he leaves us with now, is the knowledge that even the most ordinary life can be lived in the most extraordinary way.

That poem of Kiplings, which summarises the very finest qualities any man can aspire to, might well have been written with a Michael Werikhe in mind, even to the very end, where he was so bravely true to the challenge:

"If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same. . ."

The Rhino Man will be sorely missed and never forgotten.

It was a great privilege to have worked with him and known him.

- P.J.C.H., Mombasa.

 

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