Dr. Winnie Kiiru, a widely admired wildlife biologist, conservationist, and advocate for people- centered conservation will become Mpala’s Executive Director on February 1, 2023.
Until recently, Dr. Kiiru served as director of government relations for the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), a coalition of the 21 African countries where the majority of the world’s elephants live. EPI is focused on ending the killing of elephants and especially on the mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict. Dr. Kiiru is also a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Previously she worked as senior technical adviser with the UK-based nonprofit Stop Ivory. In that role, Dr. Kiiru worked with African governments to improve the management, storage and disposal of government-held ivory stocks. It was a great moment for Dr. Kiiru and Stop Ivory when President Uhuru Kenyatta destroyed more than 100 tonnes of Kenya’s ivory stocks in Nairobi National Park in April 2016.
Earlier in her career, Dr. Kiiru was the founding director of the Kenya office of the Born Free Foundation, which is committed to ending the exploitation of animals in captivity and in the wild.
“Dr. Kiiru embodies the curiosity, creativity, and commitment that are the essence of Mpala, one of the African continent’s premiere research institutes,” says Dr. Aly Kassam-Remtulla, board chair of the Mpala Research Centre (MRC) and the Mpala Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Vice Provost for International Affairs at Princeton University. “She is authentic and accessible, a scientist committed to addressing the most important research questions of our time, an advocate for capacity building for emerging scholars and conservationists, and a changemaker who will lead the next phase of Mpala’s growth.”
As Mpala’s chief executive, Dr. Kiiru will report to the chair of the MRC board. Working with a staff of 250, Dr. Kiiru will oversee the leadership, planning, development, and management of Mpala’s research, education, and outreach efforts. Dr. Kiiru will continue implementation of Mpala’s strategic plan which calls for programmatic expansion, capacity-building for local scholars, and investment in physical infrastructure.
“I am honoured to be joining the Mpala Research Centre at a time when the twin challenges of climate change and the extinction crisis make science-led decision making extremely important,” says Dr. Kiiru. “The opportunity to bring together scientists and scholars from the most prestigious institutions in the world to collaborate with Kenyan and African scientists is exciting. We look forward to developing state-of-the-art infrastructure to support a world-class research environment. Timely and broad dissemination of research findings will be encouraged at Mpala and opportunities for capacity building for local scholars — especially women, youth, and indigenous communities — will be actively promoted. The research centre will work together with county and national government research institutions toward the development of practical, relevant and innovative research programs.”
Dr. Kiiru has made a lifelong commitment to civic service, having served as a trustee of the Kenya Wildlife Service and currently serving on the board of the Wildlife Research Training Institute, which was recently established by the Kenyan government to coordinate and manage wildlife research in the country. She is the chair of the board of the Friends of the Karura Forest and a trustee of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Passionate about involving women and girls in conservation, Dr. Kiiru is a founding member of Women for the Environment Africa, which aims to empower female leaders to remedy the gender imbalance in leadership in African environmentalism and conservation.
Kitili Mbathi, a member of the search committee who is an MRC and MWF Trustee and former Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, commented, “We are thrilled to have such a distinguished conservationist join us to lead Mpala and to build on and diversify the expansive scientific research which has been conducted there thus far. She will spearhead our strategy to increase the participation of students and researchers from Kenya and the rest of Africa.” Dr. Helen Gichohi, another member of the search committee who is the Africa Conservation Ambassador of Fauna and Flora International and a member of the Princeton-Mpala Advisory Council added, “I am delighted to see Dr. Kiiru, a distinguished leader and female conservationist at the helm of the Mpala Research Centre at this time. Her strong desire to develop Kenyan and African scientists and her commitment, passion, energy, and diverse experience in conservation make her a great choice to drive the change needed at Mpala.”
Dr. Kiiru holds a BSc from Kenyatta University, a master’s degree from the University of Zimbabwe, and a Ph.D. in bodiversity management with a focus on elephant conservation and management from the University of Kent. Dr. Kiiru is married with two adult sons. She loves to explore the outdoors and has climbed Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare ranges several times. Dr. Kiiru conquered Uhuru peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Ruwenzori mountains in Uganda in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
The appointment of Dr. Kiiru marks the culmination of a robust and intensive search process led by Dr. Kassam-Remtulla and a search committee that included Mpala trustees from all partner organizations, a member of the Princeton-Mpala Advisory Council, and researchers active at Mpala. The committee considered highly accomplished leaders from a pool of more than 100 candidates representing a range of backgrounds. The Nairobi office of the global firm Boyden provided executive search services.
Dr. Kiiru replaces Dr. Dino Martins, who completed seven years of service to Mpala in July 2022.
Founded in 1994 in Laikipia County, Kenya, Mpala is a catalyst for interdisciplinary and high-impact research on the most relevant environmental, sustainability, and human development issues of our time. It is one of the leading ecological research centers in Africa and a partnership of Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, Kenya Wildlife Service, and the National Museums of Kenya. Princeton is the managing partner of the Mpala Research Centre (MRC) and of the Mpala Wildlife Foundation (MWF), which stewards the 48,000-acre campus on which MRC operates.
For media inquiries:
Grace Penn, Associate Director
Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs