“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” —Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism. The spirit of this quote best captures the relentless struggle by a Kenyan conservationist to save the elephant.
Jimmy Justus Nyamu, 39, is nursing blisters after concluding a 3,200-kilometre round trip that took him to Tanzania and Uganda in 126 days in a bid to save the jumbos. It would have been easy for him to go about the normal 8 to 5pm working routine for Nyamu as most Nairobians do. Except that he is not your ordinary Nairobian.
Nyamu, a research scientist and conservationist, says he cannot afford to sit pretty when the country is losing its heritage. He started his walk three years ago and is not looking back. “I will only stop when the world appreciates the fact that ivory belongs to elephants,” Nyamu, the director of Elephant Neighbours Centre, told The Standard on Sunday when we caught up with him at Lower Kabete in the outskirts of Nairobi as he neared the end of his walk.
With a slight limp occasioned by the blisters on his feet and a husky voice that has for the last 124 days been singing the anti-poaching gospel across East African villages, towns and cities, Nyamu passionately asks the residents of Lower Kabete to keep the anti-elephant poaching campaign alive.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes around the world. “There is a serious need to protect the elephants by eliminating both the supply of illegal ivory and demand,” Nyamu says. With a team from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Nyamu left a sunny Nairobi on June 4 on one of the longest walks he has ever undertaken. Over 126 days, he trekked from Nairobi’s KICC through Namanga, Arusha, Tanga, Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Dodoma, Babati, Serengeti, Mwanza and Bukoba at the border of Tanzania and Uganda. The walk also took him through Mutukula, Mbarara, Kasese, Fort Portal, Entebbe, Kampala, Jinja, Busia, Kisumu, Kapsabet, Eldoret, Iten, Kabarnet, Nakuru, Naivasha and back to Nairobi. From his first step until his last on October 8 when he concluded his walk at the KWS headquarters in Lang’ata, the conservationist covered more than 8,510 kilometres cumulatively on a journey that took him across the length of East Africa and the US in three years.
“I was anxious and excited about this particular walk, although I have done several others. It was the longest I have ever done. I did not know what lay ahead, and the funds were limited. But I was determined to make it, [and] the message of hope for the elephant’s survival was well-received,” he says. “I was flagged off at KICC on June 4. I crossed the border at Namanga 10 days later.”