In 2015, Shiv Kapila was monitoring vultures with Simon Thomsett in Kenya, when he was approached by Stratton Hatfield with a proposition to help monitor Martial Eagles as well. As a trustee of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust with several years of experience in the field, Shiv was ideally positioned to help place the first transmitters on Martial Eagles in the Maasai Mara and surrounding conservancies. Through this partnership, the Mara Raptor Project was conceived.
“Why just monitor Martials? Why not monitor everything?”
Shiv has a BS in Geology and an MS in Conservation from Universities in England. He monitored Fish Eagles at Lake Naivasha in central Kenya for his graduate project. On his first day working with these eagles, he resolved to live in Kenya one day. “Lake Naivasha is incredible for bird life.”
Today, Shiv runs a major base of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, a sanctuary that is the first point of contact for any birds that are injured. Shiv’s favorite resident bird is a vulture named Yusef rescued from the Mara. Yusef, like many of the other residents, has his own personality and character, but Yusef and Shiv have a particularly strong bond.
“Every morning when I brush my teeth, Yusef comes up to the window and we have a bit of a chat.”
I met Yusef and his fellow birds over Zoom, and I was amazed by how eagerly they interacted with Shiv. Shiv’s narrative shifted easily between reprimanding Yusef for nibbling on his toes to describing the long-term consequences of ecological cascades. “Vultures are incredibly useful to people,” Shiv explained. “Without these birds, you’d have a huge human health crisis.”
Rescuing raptors with broken wings is a bittersweet responsibility, but Shiv enjoys the challenges involved in wildlife monitoring and conservation research in Kenya. He clearly sees his role in the big picture.
“There are 8 billion people on the planet now. It’s such a small section that’s trying to undo the damage humanity has caused. Particularly in Kenya, everyone in this field is focused on elephant, rhino, lion, but there’s no one fighting for birds of prey apart from a handful of people, including the Mara Raptor Project. There’s maybe a half-dozen to a dozen people monitoring birds of prey in the country. It’s a small circle—too small. We’ve got to try to do everything we can.”
Shiv has no regrets about his career choice. “Not everyone gets to spend their time doing this kind of stuff. I have really cool, solid colleagues.” His advice for aspiring researchers is to just make sure it’s fun. “Do what you want and try hard, but make sure it’s fun.”
Shiv Kapila’s expertise in handling birds has been an invaluable contribution to the Mara Raptor Project, and the Project would not exist without the legal support of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust. For updates on Yusef, follow Yusef on Instagram @yusef_the_vulture