Photograph courtesy of Elephant Neighbors Center.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VOICES SAVING ELEPHANTS
Q&A: Walking for Elephants: One Man’s Journey Across Kenya
By Maraya Cornell
On March 14, Jim Justus Nyamu, a 39-year-old Kenyan conservationist and elephant research scientist, completed a 283-mile-walk (455 km) from Emali to Voi in Kenya. Nyamu passed through the Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems, both critical refuges for Kenya’s elephant populations. By walking for elephants as part of his Ivory Belongs to Elephants campaign, Nyamu hopes to raise awareness and better involve rural Kenyan communities in wildlife conservation.
Many of the community members Nyamu spoke with had questions and concerns about Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, in place since January 2014. The act stiffens penalties related to wildlife crime, but it also gives communities more authority to manage natural resources locally. It specifies compensation to individuals and families for wildlife-related death, as well as injury and damage to property.
Since 2013, Nyamu has walked nearly 2,500 miles (4,000 km) in Kenya and 560 miles in the U.S. as part of the campaign. Nyamu is the founder and executive director of the Nairobi-based Elephant Neighbors Center.
Nyamu spoke via Skype after his recent walk.
Last month, you finished a 455-kilometer (283-mile) walk in Kenya, the latest in your Ivory Belongs to Elephants campaign. What was this campaign about?
The Ivory Belongs to Elephants walk is a grassroots education campaign geared to engage the local communities who live with the wildlife outside protected areas on how best they can manage and benefit from the wildlife. The other thing is to raise awareness and educate the communities about the new Wildlife Conservation Management Act.
What was a typical day like?
Our day would start from five in the morning. We would do the breakfast, we would knock down the camp, do the packing. I would visit the first school as early as 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and then we’d begin marching. I would walk with five, six, seven schools in a day. In between the schools, I would meet with maybe five different community groups. People would be out, waiting for our convoy, ready to ask questions, ready to support us, ready to criticize us. The last hour would probably be 8 in the evening because we also wanted to show a video in the community center or school centers.
What were some of the questions people asked?
They were asking about the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act. The compensation [for wildlife injury and property damage] only [applies to] last year. Who is going to pay for the past losses they’ve incurred from the wildlife? And they wanted to know the procedure on how they should report the incidents, how long should they wait before they’re compensated.
Who accompanied you on the walk?
I had 17 to start, and this was comprised of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Police, the [county] administration police. I would also get support from the community game scouts who would come along and walk with me, as well as my support team and institutions like Amara Conservation.
You walked alongside Amboseli National Park and around the southern border of Tsavo West in Kenya. Why did you choose this particular route?
I chose this area because the Tsavo ecosystem is the largest in Kenya, accommodating 11,076 elephants, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service’s 2014 aerial census data. The other thing is Tsavo is known for one of the highest levels of human-elephant conflict. It borders five different community user groups—agriculturalists, pastoralists.
One of the difficulties was that the walk coincided with the dry season, when the conflict was very high. Ten elephants were killed while I was walking in this area. Four people were killed by elephants, and two were injured by elephants. So people would find it not very convincing that I’m talking about conserving and protecting elephants when they are experiencing human-wildlife conflict which was very high. Read Full Voices Article Here