The Great Zebra Count at Nairobi National Park



The Kenya Wildlife Service, The Kenya Wildlife Festival and WildlifeDirect invite you to participate in the ‘GREAT ZEBRA COUNT’- the first of its kind citizen science project at the Nairobi National Park, on 1st and 2nd March 2015.

This year, Kenya will participate in the global World Wildlife Day celebrations by hosting a national celebration of her unique wildlife heritage through a week long national Wildlife Festival from 28th February to 7th March.

The GREAT ZEBRA COUNT is one of the festival’s activities. 

This citizen science initiative will allow the public to estimate the population sizes of zebras and giraffes within the Nairobi National park.  It involves the collection of photographs of Zebras and Giraffes taken by participating teams, which will be analysed using a new software, IBEIS, which identifies individual animals by their unique stripes and patterns.


The software will determine the number of zebra’s and giraffe in the Nairobi National Park, identify specific animals and where they are found. The IBEIS software was developed by 4 American universities. For more information, visit IBEIS.ORG


You are invited to form a team, identify a vehicle to use for the team, get your cameras ready and register your team here:


After registration, you will be provided with an information pack detailing how the census shall be conducted. The Great Zebra count is done in collaboration with Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNaP) with the support of Nairobi Tented Camp.


The Wildlife Festival is an opportunity to share the country’s vision and encourage citizens’ participation in a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. The festival also presents an opportunity for the public to participate in contributing to important conservation science for the Kenya Wildlife Service.


The KWS Park Entry Fees will apply.  For further information contact


Your participation in this activity will be highly appreciated.


embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Ndovu Zetu Music Concert

Ndovu Zetu Music Concert : In Praise of Elephants



On the last day of February this year, some of the top most bands in Kenya will put up a grand show…wait for it…for elephants!

Sauti Sol, Sarabi band, Juliani, Muthoni Drummer Queen, Emmanuel Jal are among the top artists slated to perform at the Ndovu Zetu concert on 28th February, at the United Nations Recreational Grounds. This will be the first time that a concert is held in Kenya just for elephants.

It will also be the first time that ‘Tusimame’- an elephant anthem song will be performed live for the very first time. Tusimame was written and performed by various artists including former South Sudan child soldier Emmanuel Jal, Juliani, Syssi Mananga from Congo-Brazzaville and Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania.

“We are excited to be hosting a show just for elephants,” says Dr Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of WildlifeDirect. WildlifeDirect, whose patron is the First Lady Her Excellency  Margaret Kenyatta, is the main sponsor of the concert, working in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

This concert will be the kick-off event of the Kenya Wildlife Festival. The Kenya Wildlife festival is an initiative of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the ministry of Environment Water and Natural Resources and several conservation organisations to create awareness among the public and celebrate Kenya’s wealth and natural heritage in wildlife.

“People do great things for people and causes they love and believe in. Were doing this for elephants because we love them. Like humans, elephants feel, worry, play, hurt, mourn, remember. Elephants are human too”

And the reasons to celebrate our elephants are many!

Kenya hosts the world’s most famous elephant research project ; the Save The Elephants and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. The Amboseli Trust for elephants has been running for 40years. All the elephants at the Amboseli eco system are known by names and their families. Save the Elephants operates on Northern Kenyan where they have been on the frontline to take poaching down and create awareness about elephants conservation.

Kenya is also home to the David Sheldrick Elephant Wildlife Trust which hosts the world’s most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre.

But the truth remains that African elephants face imminent extinction if nothing is done to save them. Approximately 33,000 elephants are killed every year across Africa to supply the ivory market especially in Asia. Dr Kahumbu explains that in Kenya, we have made huge strides in the last couple of years in efforts to protect our elephants. But a lot still needs to be done.

“The public is better informed and engaged now, a suspected ivory kingpin, Feisal Mohamed Ali, is behind bars and the poaching level is down. But we still need to win the hearts and minds of Kenyans of all walks of life; we hope that every Kenyan will know of the benefits of elephants not only to our ecosystems but to our economy as well. At WildlifeDirect, our goal is to get all Kenyans and Africans to love our elephants so much that extinction is no longer a threat”

The Ndovu Zetu concert and the Kenya Wildlife Festival is an attempt to win the hearts and minds of everyone, big and small, young and old. To have every Kenyan loathing poaching and trafficking and become our brothers keepers to watch that no one is poaching our elephants or trafficking ivory to satisfy their greed.

The festival is organised by Blankets and Wine in conjunction with WildlifeDirect. The show will start at 1.00pm and end at 8.00pm. Tickets are available at for Kshs 1,500.


embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Frontline teams ‘unaware’ of wildlife smuggler tactics

By Navin Singh Khadka Environment reporter,

BBC World Service

Ivory smuggled in a suitcase

Front-line transport workers largely lack awareness on how criminal networks disguise illegal wildlife products, it emerged at a summit in Bangkok.

Customs officials and wildlife trade experts say that educating freight forwarders and handlers of air, ship and land cargoes could help the fight against trafficking.

Their recent meeting with transport operators was the first of its kind.

“There was a genuine shock (among participants from the transport industry in the meeting) as to the magnitude of wildlife trade and the methods of disguise used by traffickers to transport these commodities,” said Martin Palmer, an expert in global trade compliance requirements and international transport.

“For example, when a rhino horn is ground down to powder, it’s almost impossible to identify the difference between a box of grey chalk and a box of rhino horn powder, from a visual check.

“Facts like these came as a big surprise to participants from the transport industry.”

Wildlife organisations say around 35,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year, mainly in Africa.

The South African government has said poaching of its rhinos reached a record of 1,215 last year.

Only around 3,000 tigers are now left across the globe, which is only 5% of what the population was a century ago.

Experts say despite international efforts against wildlife trafficking, criminal networks have been adopting new tactics in transporting the illegal goods – which are estimated to be worth up to $23bn annually, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“And a lot of these people (from the transport industry) said over and over again that a lot of freight handlers lacked awareness,” said Tom Milliken, an elephant and rhino trafficking expert with Traffic, an international wildlife trade monitoring network.

seized ivory shipment

seized ivory shipment

This box full of ivory, seized in Malaysia in 2012, was hidden inside a stack of timber

In the meeting, Mr Milliken had presented a case study in which a major international courier company in 2011 suddenly found in its Europe depot that one of the parcels it was transporting had ivory bangles that were going from Nigeria to China.

“Within the next two weeks, three more similar seizures were made which was a red flag for larger international courier companies and so they immediately started screening at source,” Mr Milliken said.

“Now, there is evidence of ivory processing taking place by Asian carvers in Africa. There is increasing evidence of Chinese processing in particular shifting all the way to Africa.”

Wildlife trade experts say that this shift is a new challenge for transport operators.

“You could at least identify raw elephant tusks – but if they are processed into bangles, they could resemble resin bangles,” said Mr Palmer.

Wildlife trafficking experts say such information needs to be tailored for transport industry so that they can better assess the risks.

“These freight handlers could become valuable eyes and ears in the trade, because they are the ones who actually handle these consignments in different ways,” Mr Palmer added.

ivory bangles

A courier company discovered a shipment of ivory bangles in Germany, on its way from Nigeria to China

Trafficking experts say they are seeking the transport industry’s help particularly because most of the customs and security authorities at ports and airports across the globe are “overwhelmed” by security, drugs and human trafficking issues.

“Certainly one cannot expect that customs could inspect every shipment crossing international borders, given the volume of the cargoes. And you don’t necessarily want to inspect all the shipments because of trade facilitation,” said an official with World Customs Organisations (WCO), which counts 197 countries among its members.

“Also, very few customs authorities around the world have specialised teams that know which species of wildlife are prohibited from international trade,” the official added.

“The port of Hong Kong has 19 million containers going through it and if they are going to scan and open even one or two percent of that, it’s just a huge number of containers,” said Mr Milliken.

About 90% of the items traded around the world are shipped internationally, according to the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.

smuggled turtles

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth up to $23 billion annually

In most cases, sea containers are not X-rayed – unlike air cargoes.

Therefore, experts say, customs officials work on the basis of a very reasoned risk assessment to choose containers that have a higher probability of containing illegal wildlife products.

“The transport industry people know the customer, they know all the trade routes and then they handle the goods,” said another senior WCO official, who did not want to be named.

“If they are interested and if they are aware of that kind of threat, then they can tip off the customs authority, which can then improve its performance.”

The International Air Transport Association said that a number of airlines had instigated training programmes for staff to identify suspect bags or behaviours.

The IATA recently accepted an invitation to join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s United for Wildlife Taskforce, which will look at a whole range of issues and actions to help stamp out this illegal trade, said Michael Gill, its aviation environment director.

There was no comment from the International Chamber of Shipping.

A representative with a shipping company, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the industry was unaware of the tactics used by wildlife traffickers but there was a general awareness that such crimes could take place.

“We mainly rely on declarations from our customers about their goods and if that is false, we cannot do anything about it. It then becomes a customs issue,” the representative said.

Short-term Consultancy at WildlifeDirect

WildlifeDirect in partnership with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, has developed a Rapid reference guide for use by prosecutors from the different arms of government. This consultancy is expected to augment this work by refining the guide into a proper information and educational content document with detailed layout and in language that is easily understood by the common man

If you’re interested, download the TORs here and apply by 16th February 2015, to:  

TORs for RRG consultancy

Happy New Year From WildlifeDirect

By Njambi Maingi

We celebrated the start of 2015 on a welcomed high note. No other motivation was more fitting than the conferment of the Order of the Grand Warrior – OGW – on our CEO Dr Paula Kahumbu and fellow conservation partner, Katito Saiyalel of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

An award ceremony was held at the Amboseli Serena lodge, and presided over by the cabinet secretary of the Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

OGW is a State commendation, awarded by the President of Kenya “in recognition of outstanding or distinguished service rendered to the nation in various capacities and responsibilities”

The Kenya Wildlife Service Assistant Director for the Southern Conservation Area, Mr. Julius Cheptei was present as the master of ceremony.

Dr Paula receives the OGW medal from CS Wakhungu

Dr Paula receives the OGW medal from CS Wakhungu


“I am humbled and moved in accepting this award. To me, this is the most important award I have received. I do so on behalf of all my staff, board, interns volunteers, supporters and of course the elephants who have all inspired me.  This award is a substantial recognition of the significance of our work in elephant conservation to by beloved country, Kenya. Knowing that the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign is not just making a difference, but has the support of the Republic of Kenya, gives us a renewed conviction to the seriousness in our efforts to end poaching, ivory trafficking and the buying of ivory” – Dr Paula Kahumbu, OGW.




Katito Saiyalel of ATE receives her OGW medal from CS Wakhungu

Katito Saiyalel of ATE receives her OGW medal from CS Wakhungu


“I feel lucky, that this award was conferred to me, here in Amboseli my home. I will continue to protect these elephants and other elephants too. I am so happy and proud of myself. What next for me? Keep protecting our elephants.” – Katito Saiyalel, OGW

Congratulations Dr Paula, OGW & Katito Saiyalel, OGW.

For more pictures click here


On the 5th of January, the first day at the office in 2015, WildlifeDirect staff were pleasantly surprised by a visit from our ‘founding father’ Dr Richard Leakey. He is a rare appearance at the WildlifeDirect office. But he had to get a firsthand look at the latest addition to the WildlifeDirect awards, the OGW Medal. The team, not missing out on the photo opportunity, posed with Dr Leakey before he left shortly.








Leakey @ office




Dr Leakey admires Dr Paula’s OGW medal at the WildlifeDirect office.




leakey office team


L-R: Chris Kiarie, John Mutie, Liz Gitari, Dr Paula Kahumbu, Dr Richard Leakey, Bertha Kang’ong’oi, Njambi Maingi, Victor de la Torre Sans.)







This week, the spirited volunteer and supporter of Hands Off Our Elephants, Peter Muthee, paid us a courtesy call. Peter is a talented young painter, who donated his ‘Hidden Elephant’ painting to help raise public awareness and mobilization about elephants conservation.

“In 2013 when the poaching of elephants became very rampant and was frequently in the news, I painted this abstract elephant, to help raise awareness to the crisis. I hope to participate in more Hands Off Our Elephants projects this year,” he said.

Thank you Peter for your kindness, we look forward to more interactions in 2015!



Peter Muthee presents the painting to Njambi Maingi at the WildlifeDirect offices

America Plans to List African Lion as Endangered Species


The US Dept of Fish and Wildlife are currently considering listing the African Lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which would allow protections like adding permitting restrictions on lions from trophy hunts to be imported into the US.
They are taking public comment on this until Jan. 27, 2015 here –!documentDetail;D=FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025-3488.

Please take a minute to comment in support of this important measure and share people in your networks.


Thank you.

Wildlife Conservation Through Sports at the Maasai Olympics

By Njambi Maingi, Outreach Coordinator, WildlifeDirect

An athlete crosses the finish line at the Maasai Olympics. The Maasai Olympics were held the Sidai Oleng Sanctuary, at the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. By Paula Kahumbu

An athlete crosses the finish line at the Maasai Olympics. The Maasai Olympics were held the Sidai Oleng Sanctuary, at the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. By Paula Kahumbu

Saturday 13 December was the second edition of the Maasai Olympics. Organised by the Big Life Foundation, the Olympics were founded as an event to replace the hunting of lions as a cultural rite of passage, and encouraging Maasai morans (warriors) to use their strength to fight for trophies and prizes and not to kill wildlife.

In a riot of colours of deep reds, deep blues, glistening beads and a palpable energy all over the Kimana Sanctuary at the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, the event was also a rallying call for wildlife conservation.

WildlifeDirect was happy to be present at the Olympics and to support conservation efforts of Big Life Foundation. Through the CEO Dr Paula Kahumbu, WLD presented donated shoes for girls who participated in the 100m and the 1,500m races.


Girls pick their shoes before taking part in the 800m race. The shoes were donated to the girls through WildlifeDirect, and delivered by the CEO, Dr Paula Kahumbu


The competing athletes represented four local group ranches, including Imbirikani, Kuku, Rombo and Olgulului. They participated in a series of games that mimic traditional skills as an expression of the community’s willingness to save lion populations and raise awareness about wildlife conservation. The games included the Maasai High jump, The Rungu throw (Rungu-a traditional wooden club, and the Javelin throw. There was also the 100m, 200m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m run in which the women also participated.

“Charity begins at home, and having the Maasai take the lead in the protection of wildlife is a good way to take on the challenge of wildlife preservation.” said David Rudisha, one of Kenya’s top athlete, the Olympic record holder and gold medalist of the 800-m race,  and patron of the Maasai Olympics.

Representatives of Big Life stressed the importance of involving community’s leadership in organising the Olympics and sensitising them about conservation efforts.

“Due to programs such as these, there is an increasing positive perception towards wildlife and conservation,” said Tom Hill, of the Big Life Foundation. “The community is now more willing to endorse the elephant anti-poaching activities by the community scouts. Through our information network, a well known elephant poacher, Kerumpoti Leyian, who had been on the run, was recently arrested and sentenced to prison for seven years”.

In addition to earning pride and highly coveted awards such as the trophies and medals, winners also received cash prizes, education scholarships and a prize bull was also up for grabs.


A moran takes part in the Maasai High jump competition at the Maasai Olympics. By Paula Kahumbu

A moran takes part in the Maasai High jump competition at the Maasai Olympics. By Paula Kahumbu

Many community member present at the games cited the economic importance of lions and elephants to tourism within the group ranches and emphasized on the need to protect wildlife for community development; a win for both wildlife and the community.

This colourful event was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, African Wildlife Foundation,  the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Chester Zoo, the Olive Branch among others. It was attended by hundreds of community members, tourists, conservation organizations, the media. Cynthia Moss, Katito Saiyalel and Norah Njiraini of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants were also present as well as the leadership and administration of the local county government.

Note: The Kenyan lion population has decreased by 85% in the last 15 years and stands today at a mere 2000, with losses of up to 100 lions a year. This is mainly as a result of human-wildlife conflict brought about by the depredation of livestock owned by the Maasai. The Maasai have used their traditional knowledge of hunting to seek retaliation through spearing and the use of poisons. Experts claim that if prudent action is not taken, lions face extinction in the wild within the next 10 years.




China MUST act, but AFRICA take the lead to stop ivory trade

China must act, but Africa take the lead to stop ivory trade

By Paula Kahumbu with Andrew Hallyday


Workers destroy confiscated ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

Workers destroy confiscated ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP


A major new study provides disturbing proof that the crisis facing African elephants is even worse than people imagined, driven by the exploding trade in illegal ivory in China.

The study, written by ivory market researchers Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin, and funded by Save the Elephants (STE) and the Aspinall Foundation, found that skyrocketing demand for ivory in China has sparked a booming trade in smuggled ivory. There are ever greater numbers of items on sale, carving factories, and legal and illegal retail outlets.

The expanding legal trade provides a perfect cover for laundering vast quantities of illegal ivory. The Chinese government is taking some measures to control the illegal ivory market, but it’s not doing enough. The situation is currently out of control.

The study concludes: “without China’s leadership in ending demand for ivory Africa’s elephants could disappear from the wild within a generation.”

This conclusion seems self evident. In fact this point has been made time and again. For example, an article published in Time magazine almost exactly a year ago concluded that if the Chinese authorities don’t act fast, we could be heading toward a future without elephants.

In the run-up to London summit on wildlife crime in February, I wrote “all eyes are on China” and in the aftermath suggested that we are losing to battle to save wildlife because “western leaders … don’t have the guts to take on China”.

What’s depressing is that so little has changed, despite the impassioned rhetoric of world leaders, high profile campaigns celebrities and British royals, and the sterling efforts of campaigning organisations like STE. To make change happen I suggest we need to challenge the notion of “China’s leadership” on two counts.

First, although Chinese action is essential to save Africa’s elephants, the leadership should come from Africa. While China may face a “conservation challenge” as stated in the title of the report, it is Africa’s elephants that are facing extinction.


Young demonstrators sit with a placard as they prepare to take part in the “Global March for Elephants and Rhinos” in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Young demonstrators sit with a placard as they prepare to take part in the “Global March for Elephants and Rhinos” in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Unfortunately, despite growing civil society engagement with wildlife issues, so far few African leaders have demonstrated they are serious about taking action. One of them, President Khama of Botswana, recently asked me, despairingly: “Where is the pride of Africa? Why aren’t we setting the agenda here? It is we who have the elephants.”

A recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report made some highly publicised claims about involvement of visiting Chinese officials in ivory smuggling out of Tanzania. These claims were furiously – and unconvincingly – denied by Chinese authorities. What got less publicity was the much longer part of the EIA report analysing ingrained institutional corruption in Tanzania and the complicity of Tanzanian authorities in the illegal ivory trade.

Africans will not have the political or moral authority to make demands on the Chinese until we put our own house in order.

Secondly we have to stop thinking about “China” as a monolith – a single actor in the unfolding drama.

China is a highly complex society. The dynamic of ivory trade is driven by interactions among a wide range of actors. Political leaders, government officials, organised criminals, consumers and civil society organisations all contribute to the illegal ivory trade and attempts to control it in different ways. We need to understand their roles and target our actions and campaigns accordingly.

For example, was the ivory spending spree by the Chinese delegation in Tanzania sanctioned ‘from above’ or was it a case of lower-level officials getting out of control? In the first case, a high level diplomatic protest might be in order. But in the second case it might be more effective to engage with Chinese civil society organizations already combating corrupts officials at home.

Consumers who purchase ivory are also driven by different motives. The report suggests that “investors banking on continued rises in the price of ivory appear to be a significant factor in the recent boom, rather than buyers of traditional ivory carvings”.

This is important information. Buyers of handicrafts might well be swayed by awareness raising campaigns, but law enforcement is likely to be a more effective strategy against unscrupulous investors – and of course also against the organised crime networks that supply them.

Let’s be clear: China is also a highly centralised society. If the Chinese nation is contributing to the ongoing extinction of Africa’s elephants – as it is – the Chinese government deserves the lion’s share of the blame.

But, here again, we need to understand China better in order to know the best way to the influence Chinese authorities. China’s leaders are sensitive to pressure from foreign governments— and the hard evidence of reports by organizations like STE and EIA. It was notable that the first online report I found of the press conference in Nairobi today to launch the report was a long article in the South China Morning Post.

But Chinese authorities are also sensitive to pressure from an increasing confident civil society inside China. A recent visit to China by two young African activists, Christopher Kiarie of WildlifeDirect and Resson Kantai of STE, provided encouraging evidence of the potential for linkages between African and Chinese civil society organizations, to work together to increase pressure on the Chinese government to change.

A joined-up strategy led by Africans at all levels of society offers the best chance of success in these desperate times.


WildlifeDirect Welcomes Statement by Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu on Destruction of Ivory Stockpiles in Kenya

25 November 2014, Nairobi


Press Statement


WildlifeDirect Welcomes Statement by Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu on Destruction of Ivory Stockpiles in Kenya

The Chairman of WildlifeDirect Kenya, Philip Murgor, and the CEO of WildlifeDirect, Dr Paula Kahumbu, would like to strongly support the Cabinet Secretary for Environment , Water and Natural Resources, Judi Wakhungu, for her statement and stand in regard to ivory stockpiles in Kenya.

“At WildlifeDirect, we are very pleased that the minister has openly advocated for the destruction of ivory stockpiles in Kenya,” said Dr Kahumbu. “We agree with the minister, that the only way of stopping the ivory from getting into the market is by destroying it. Our elephants are facing extinction, and we must do what it takes to conserve them, not just for us but as a world heritage”.

The cabinet secretary was quoted in a media report this week, saying that ivory stockpiles should be destroyed to keep them from getting back into the market, adding that the move will deter the supply and demand for ivory.

On his part, the chairman Philip Murgor said that Kenya had demonstrated leadership and courage to go against the grain in the late 80s, when the then president Daniel Moi destroyed 12 tonnes of ivory in order to persuade the world to end trade in ivory.

“This bold move worked in the 90s. Elephant numbers began to rise across the continent.  It can work again, and the current trend of 35,000 elephants killed every year in Africa can be reversed. We are very pleased that the current leadership appreciates the significance of destroying ivory stockpiles”.




For more information, please contact Dr Paula Kahumbu on 0722 685 106 or Bertha Kang’ong’oi on 0720 712 730.


Keep Tim Alive
An encounter with a wounded tusker reminds me that saving elephants is the only true measure of success of our campaigns

Tim, one of the world's largest Tuskers

Tim, one of the world’s largest Tuskers

Photograph: John Heminway/WildlifeDirect
Amboseli, Kenya, 7 November 2014.

We are sitting in the beautiful Tortillis camp overlooking the wide savannah. Just as we are about to move on to another item on the agenda, Scott Asen, one of our newest board members, consults his phone and announces: “Tim just sent me a text. He’s waiting. I think we should go now.” Words said in jest that had a profound meaning for all of us present.

Tim is one of the world’s biggest tuskers and his home is Amboseli. Like other bull elephants he leads a nomadic life, roaming far and wide across the vast national park and beyond. We felt blessed that he had shown up on this particular day. After two days of hard work and important progress for elephant conservation we felt Tim was here to say “thank you”. But what we saw shocked us to the core. Tim had not come to say thank you, he was pleading with us: “Help me.”

The WildlifeDirect Board of 14 extraordinary men and women from USA, UK and Kenya had met less than 24 hours earlier with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, and with Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

We presented the successes of the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign, launched by WildlifeDirect a year ago, in bringing together Kenyans from all walks of life to stand up for elephants and wildlife, and lobbying governments worldwide to take action against the international crime cartels behind the poaching crisis that is threatening Africa’s elephants.

Then we heard about the ministry’s successes in passing new laws and strengthening the protection agencies, and about the many challenges remaining. And then at the most unexpected moment, the usually shy and withdrawn First Lady stepped up to agree to a raft of requests: for her to spearhead the replication of the campaign across Africa, and for Kenya’s elephants and rhinos to be declared national treasures.

She also supported our call for a Kenyan national Wildlife Festival to enlist all sectors of society in wildlife conservation efforts. Everything was going swimmingly, and then the First Lady turned to ask: “But why aren’t you guys working together?” I felt busted and immediately agreed to work with Judi to assemble an independent team of experts to conduct a national assessment of Kenya’s elephants and rhinos.

As we left the meeting The First Lady hugged me and said: “Don’t ever give up, you must fight on”. I left State House on a cloud, and things got better as the day progressed.

That evening we celebrated the achievements of the first year of the campaign with supporters and partners in government and beyond. Our Facebook page described the “colour and pomp, smiles and hugs” of the Hands Off Our Elephants first birthday party.

The US Ambassador Bob Godec brought some members of the audience to tears with a powerful speech from the heart. He said it was not just his job to help us save elephants, but also a deeply held personal conviction.

Our keynote speaker, the Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga, remembered the first day he ‘met’ me through what he described as the first of a series of “angry emails”. I had been going to court, and was appalled to see how ivory poachers and traffickers were being let off. The emails were to tell him just how diabolical it all was. He gave WildlifeDirect permission to continue our hard-hitting approach: “Don’t stop being angry.”

Fast forward, and the next evening we are all sitting atop of Land Rovers, off-road somewhere in Amboseli National Park. It is dense palm thicket and we can hear branches cracking. Tim is near. Then we see a monumental trunk above the palms, reaching high into the branches. It is only when we drive around to get a full view that we see the magnificence of his full body and his gigantic tusks.

It is 4.50 pm and the sun is gleaming on his ivory. An audible “aaaaaahhh” emanates from all of us. Tim is truly spectacular. Then Tim notices us and turns. It is as if he is hiding that which we find so beautiful, which too many Chinese are addicted to, and which translates to dollar signs for greedy poachers.

We sit quietly contemplating the giant Tim. I am acutely aware that it is very strange for this elephant I know so well to be so shy. He is usually proud and confident, and loves attention and cameras. And then the bombshell, as we see the sore his left flank, where blood and white clumps of puss are oozing out. This is why Tim is acting so strangely. He is in great pain.


Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign material was already calling to “Keep Tim Alive” before he was found injured in November 2014. Photograph: John Heminway/WildlifeDirect

Majestic Tim is injured. We can only speculate about recent events, that Tim has possibly been speared by someone from the local community. He may have threatened farmers, or perhaps a poacher was after him.

All of us sit in our own silence as we watch Tim for over an hour. Then Tim steps out in front of us and walks amongst us, but his walk is strained. I cannot describe the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel so helpless, but also chastened. We have been celebrating the successes of our campaign, but what right do we have to celebrate when poaching and human-wildlife conflict still threaten elephants every day?

Within seconds the purpose of WildlifeDirect is suddenly vivid. Kenya has already lost two iconic tuskers, Satao and Mountain Bull, this year. Hands Off Our Elephants was already campaigning to Keep Tim Alive. Now he needs our help.

In minutes we have a plan to give the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) 25 thousand US dollars to to monitor and protect Tim 24/7. We call Julius Cheptei, the KWS Assistant Director, and he agrees to assign a vet to the case immediately.

As we leave Tim, the six other bulls that make up his escort are walking off towards the edge of the park. We follow them for a short while, and see they are heading towards some local settlements. I am not worried. It’s their normal routine and the communities here are usually very tolerant of elephants.

But Tim does not follow. He stays 200 meters behind and then peels off towards the centre of the swamp. He is not going to put himself at risk again.