Dr. Abdullahi Ali is an indigenous Kenyan conservationist born and raised in Garissa (home of the hirola), Kenya.
He works in the isolated and volatile regions of eastern Kenya and some parts of southwest Somalia that border Kenya. Despite being raised in a small village in eastern Kenya, a place known for insecurity, poverty and low literacy, Dr. Ali received his Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Wyoming where he also won the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year award- 2016.
In 2014, Dr. Ali founded the Hirola Conservation Program (a nonprofit organization solely dedicated to saving the critically endangered hirola antelope in eastern Kenya). Dr. Ali works with local Somalis to save the world’s most endangered antelope while improving the local’s livelihood.
Childhood & early life
Dr. Ali grew up at the northern tip of the Hirola historical range in Garissa, eastern Kenya. Both of his parents are nomadic pastoralists, who keep mixed herds including camels, cattle, goats and sheep. As a child, his role was to assist his parents not just in herding, but also help protect the livestock from carnivores, particularly caracals and hyenas. Based on Somali cultural perspectives, the more attacks you stop, the more animals you inherit from your father. He was determined not to incur any potential losses. Subsequently, he stopped several of these human-carnivore conflicts thus assisting his father in sustaining the livelihood of their family.
By the age of five, he had inherited up to 15 goats with his favourite one named “Nasey”. From the stories, Dr. Ali was born a natural explorer. For example, one evening at the tender age of 4 years--he walked away from their makeshift home and made a foray of over 80km alone. He was primarily driven by curiosity to find out more about the natural world. He was later rescued and reunited with his family a month later when someone recognized and positively identified him as a lost child. Since then his passion for conservation has been intrinsic and inherent. These childhood experiences helped him see and fall in love with the wild part of nature from a tender age.
At the tender age of seven, Dr. Ali was forcefully captured from the outskirts of Garissa by the local chief to attend compulsory primary education. He was, therefore, a pioneer student at the Sankuri primary school, located 20 km north-west of Garissa. He went to Thika high school, where he got his first opportunity to visit the Masai Mara Nature Reserve. This was a turning point and marked the beginning of his conservation career. He later earned his bachelor's degree in Wildlife Biology in 2005 and a master's degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Nairobi in 2010. Dr. Ali received his Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Wyoming in 2016.
Dr. Ali saw how the plight of the hirola had been mis-conceptualized and he was convinced the conservation efforts and actions ultimately needed a “very strong home-grown solution”. This led to the formation of the Hirola Conservation Program in 2014. In recent years, Dr. Ali has established himself as the world-leading expert on hirola antelope ecology which is arguably the world’s most endangered antelope. Over the last decade, Dr. Ali has worked hard to raise the profile of Hirola locally, nationally and globally. As a byproduct of his efforts, Dr. Ali is a member of the IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group, a National Geographic Explorer, and works as a fellow for the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) group. Ali is also a member of the Hirola National Committee (Kenya) and a member of the National Giraffe Task Force (Kenya). In all of his efforts, Ali is striving to promote hirola recovery through grassroots conservation in the volatile region of the Kenya-Somalia border.