One man’s 8,500km mission to save jumbos in Kenya one step at a time


Jacob Ngetich, Standard Digital

Date Published
See link for photo.

“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.” 

His walk, however exciting as it was, had its fair share of challenges. One instance has stuck to his mind like glue. After a successful meeting at Babati town, near Taragire in Manyara region, thieves thinking he had collected a lot money broke into his hotel room at 3am. “They took all the money and some valuables. They thought we had collected a lot of money,” Nyamu says. From village, town hall and city meetings, church and public gatherings, Nyamu addressed hundreds of people along the way. “I was overwhelmed by the support we received and every gathering we spoke to,” he says. The positive reception, he says, soothe the blisters he sustained in the expedition.  “The people we met along the way committed that they will keep the elephants alive and encourage others to shun poaching. I am glad KWS, Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) supported us. We have managed to bring together the three bodies and they have committed to work closely,” Nyamu says. 
Yet this was not his first walk. In February 2013, Nyamu begun a 14-day walk for the elephant and covered 500 kilometres from Mombasa to Nairobi. That was his maiden walk. Two months later, he did another 1,710-kilometre trek from Maasai Mara through Mai Mahiu, Nakuru, Nyahururu, Maralal, Wamba, Isiolo, Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga to Nairobi over a 50-day period. This was followed by the Nairobi edition, a 16-kilometre walk from Uhuru Park to River Road, Jogoo Road, Eastleigh, Pangani and to the National Museums of Kenya in August 2013. That September and October, he took his mission to the US, walking some 910 kilometres from Boston to Washington DC where he gave talks in schools and universities and met local and state representatives. In total, Nyamu has walked some 8,510km in four countries, and he has no plans to stop. “I will only stop when the world appreciates the fact that ivory belongs to elephants,” he says.