Elephant man: One man's mission to save jumbos from poachers and extinction

Mr Jim Justus Nyamu, speaking at Ngoina road turn off on the Kericho-Litein highway on December, 2, 2021 in his tour of 11 counties in a campaign to save elephants from extinction

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

For the last eight years, he has travelled the world, logging over 17,776km in a drive to create awareness on the need to save elephants that are facing extinction as a result of poaching.

Dr Jimmy Justus Nyamu has journeyed through the United States, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia.

He rallied local and international non-governmental institutions, governments and citizens to save wildlife.

In December, Dr Nyamu, 44, completed a 31-day trek, the Great North Rift Elephant campaign walk, that saw him travel through eight counties.

Dr Fred Segor, the Tourism and Wildlife principal secretary at the time, flagged off Dr Nyamu on November 16 in Nairobi in a trek that terminated in Mt Elgon on December 17.

The journey saw him through Nairobi, Kajiado, Narok, Bomet, Kericho, Kisumu, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties.

In the tour, he visited 36 schools and donated 18,000 tree seedlings for planting at the schools and in public spaces.

Dressed in a T-Shirt, a grey pair of shorts, sports shoes and a hat, and holding a walking stick, the conservationist attracted a lot of interest from motorists and residents of the areas he trekked through.

A four wheel-drive Toyota branded “Ivory is for Elephants” and a police vehicle escorted him as he walked on the tarmac, with motorists stealing glances at him as they slowly drove past him.

“Poaching in Kenya and other parts of the world has become a major threat to the existence of elephants and we are staring in the eye at a man-made catastrophe,” said Dr Nyamu, a former employee of the Kenya Wildlife Society (KWS) and the African Conservation Centre.

Dr Nyamu, a member of the Kenya Elephant Forum and the Ecological Society of East Africa (ESEA), founded Ivory Belongs to Elephants in February 2012 after attending a public forum at Galleria Mall in Nairobi where he realised people did not know enough about the effect of poaching in Kenya.

The population of elephants in Africa has shrunk from 1.2 million in 1980 to 500,000 as a result of poaching.

Kenya has about 35,000 elephants, according to Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. He noted that 170 elephant babies were born in 2020.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has presided over the burning of elephant tusks and rhino horns confiscated from poachers in what was meant to demonstrate the government’s zero tolerance of poaching.

The late President Daniel Moi also burnt ivory in his tenure, as the campaigns to save elephants gained momentum.

Dr Nyamu is especially disturbed that despite the punitive measures against poachers, with a fine of as much as Sh20 million imposed by the courts, the vice continues unabated in Kenya.

“There is a need to preserve our heritage not only for the benefit of tourism, but the current and future generations,” he said.

The soft-spoken man said anti-poaching efforts are bearing fruit, with various stakeholders and governments being brought on board to create awareness, legislate against poaching, arrest and prosecute poachers.

Bureti sub county Deputy County Commissioner Laban Odhiambo (right) flags off Mr Jim Justus Nyamu, a conservationist in his tour of 11 counties on December, 2, 2021 to create awareness on the need to save elephants 

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

“There is a lot that needs to be done to conserve wildlife and we have barely scratched the service on this one. I will not stop this campaign until we have tangible results globally,” Dr Nyamu said of his journey.

Despite physical and psychological injuries inflicted in the course of the campaigns, he remains focused on the course.

“It is not only elephants that we are championing, but the entire wildlife population that has been trapped and killed by poachers with guns and crude weapons,” he said.

The receding forest cover in Kenya is a major area of concern for Dr Nyamu, who says wildlife that depends on the canopy of trees for survival are threatened with extinction.

Human-wildlife conflict has also resulted in the killing of the animals for their trophies, which are smuggled especially to China and other Asian countries.

“In every county that we travel through, we liaise with stakeholders and the Kenya Forestry Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, the national and county governments to plant over 1,000 trees to champion environmental conservation,” he said.

Pollution of rivers and streams has also threatened the lives of thousands of people and wildlife downstream and the conservationist wants to reverse that.

In his global campaign, Dr Nyamu covered more than 700km from Boston to Washington, DC, in the US.

He has covered 4,500km on foot from East Africa to South Africa, trekking from Nairobi through Botswana.

He previously walked 1,710km through the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Maai Mahiu, Nakuru, Nyahururu, Maralal, Wamba, Isiolo, Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga and Nairobi. He also covered 500km from Nairobi to Mombasa in 2013.

He also walked 8,500km in a round trip through Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania over 126 days.

The trip took him to Dodoma, Babati, Serengeti, Mwanza and Bukoba in Tanzania before he made his way through Mutukula, Mbarara, Kasese, Fort Portal, Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja.

On the Kenyan side of the border, he trekked through Busia, Kisumu, Kapsabet, Eldoret, Iten, Kabarnet, Nakuru, Naivasha and Nairobi.

Dr Nyamu has secured the support of the KWS, Tanzania National Park Authority (Tanapa) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in his noble undertaking to safe the elephants.

“It is unfortunate that countries like Eritrea, Somalia and Gabon no longer have elephants as a result of poaching,” he said.

He is pushing for the adoption of environmental conservation policies and programmes by county governments to save wildlife and enable people to have quality life.

Several countries have been pushing for the lifting of the ban on the trade in elephant tusks in what could endanger the animals.

"There is a need to protect wildlife, engage in holistic conservation of the environment, engage in sustainable farming methods so as to reduce wildlife-animal conflict," said Dr Julius Kamau, the chief conservator of forests.

Dr Kamau said the Kenya Forest Service is working with communities to conserve and rehabilitate forests.

"Forests are natural habitats for animals, thus the need to protect the natural resource," said Dr Kamau.