Best known as the “Rhino Man” Michael Werikhe walked thousands of kilometers in two decades, carrying a small rucksack with his pet python to save the rhinos in our parks – long before conservationism became a fad.
Born and raised in Mombasa, Werikhe was a veritable animal lover, an interest that was spurred when he landed his first job at 19 at the Kenya Game Board.
His work at the Fort Jesus was to document rhino horn and elephant tusks that had been captured from poachers and smugglers. The experience led the young Werikhe to quit and join the Associated Vehicle Assemblers (AVA). He would use this new position as a springboard to his famous walks – a perilous journey of grit, vision, and determination.
Werikhe first walked from Mombasa to Nairobi for one month in December 1982. In March 1985, he walked from Kampala to Mombasa through Dar es Salaam, arriving two months later. In 1988, he did a 3,000km walk through Europe, traversing Italy, Switzerland and West Germany.
He also walked in the United States and subsequently toured Asia.
It is estimated that through his efforts and the publicity around the walks, Werikhe reached 50 million people. This brought the plight of the black rhino, and by extension wildlife on the African continent, on to the global stage.
In August 1999, Werikhe was assaulted by unknown assailants and fatally injured. The BBC posthumously gave him “African of the Millennium” award in 1999.