If Jim Justus Nyamu’s shoes could talk, they would tell tales from the thousands of kilometres they have traversed all in a bid to save the jumbo.
From Marsabit to Voi to Mombasa and now eyeing the United Kingdom, they have seen it all.
A trained research scientist, his love for elephants began when his uncle brought home a wildlife magazine when he was just 14.
He was fascinated by its contents and couldn’t wait to go back to Ichichia high school in Murang’a County where he started the wildlife club.
Initial activities of the wildlife club involved visiting nearby parks and mobilising the local communities for cleanup activities.
SELECTED FOR EXCHANGE PROGRAMME
After High School, he was selected for a Canadian exchange program. He was however unable to travel to Canada for the exchange program due to logistical issues and because his parents thought it was too far away from home.
He was however later awarded a scholarship to study wildlife management in Tanzania.
On coming back into the country, he got a job at the Kenya Wildlife Service where his job literally involved counting elephants.
In addition to working at the KWS, Jim was also engaged in clean ups with local communities.
That is where his drive to sensitise locals on wildlife matters began.
“You find that the constant human wildlife conflict that we witness often is generally out of lack of knowledge. Like in my county, the number of hyenas has considerably gone down, and when I raise the issue with local authorities, most will laugh it off asking why they need hyenas. Hyenas help fight and control disease, but not many people know that, hence the need for more sensitisation.”
He started doing the walks after resigning from KWS. When he went to train in Tanzania, his sponsors line of focus was elephants hence the pull towards the animal.
Apart from raising awareness, through the walks, Jim as been able to push for the government to review penalties for poachers. Initially, those found culpable were likely to serve jail time of up to seven years or a fine of up to Sh2million. However, a bill was passed in 2013 with revised changes and Jim couldn’t have been happier.
“The bill now proposes that one would face life imprisonment or 20million fine or both for wildlife related crimes. All this is in a bid to curb poaching.”
Jim’s major walks started with a 700 kilometre walk in 2013 from Mombasato Nairobi. His first walk was myriad of challenges.
Due to lack of prior experience he did not train for the physical strain that was ahead.
As a result he suffered exhaustion and headache, sunburns as well as blisters. He was also discouraged a lot along the way as many did not understand his cause.
His walks since then have not only been limited to Kenya but have spread to East Africa as well as the United States.
In October of the same year he walked from Boston to Washington DC covering 900kms.
“During all my walks, I talk to everybody I meet, telling them why it is important to conserve wildlife while also sensitising them about the long- term effects that poaching will bring. My journey across East Africa brought it to a total of about 8,500kms since I started my campaign dubbed “ivory is for elephants”.
When he started this campaign, he had to contend with a lot of challenges which were mainly based on the very ignorance he was trying to fight.
“When I went to the US, for example, I told them they are the second largest consumers of ivory in the world and many did not believe me. It caused quite a bit of resistance but towards the end of my walk I had gathered more supporters than I expected.”
Other challenges have been the weather, lack of proper clothing and blisters from the long distances walks. Some communities as well as some stakeholders have been difficult and have not accepted his cause.
During the walks, he has a team of about ten people who include a communications person, a driver, a first aider, photographer and a community person who in some instances helps with translation.
Jim says that among those who have supported his cause in a surprising way are tour operators.
Though Jim is mostly away for months on end, his family has been his biggest support system.
The father of two says he has started sensitising his ten and five year old boys on the importance of conserving wildlife.
His walks have not been in vain. As he prepares for his next walk in London he is also set to be honoured for his ‘ivory belongs to the elephants’ cause by MTM awards- a platform created to give a voice to the Asian, Black and Ethnic Minorities to show case their potential, excellence and achievements in Business, Community, Arts and Entertainment in Bristol, UK.
The London Elephants Walk this December 2017 in the UK starts from Kensington London to Council House College Green Bristol. The walk will take 10 days with overnight stopovers.
“I do not do this for any form of monetary gain, my sole purpose is to create awareness. I feel it is my duty to educate Kenyans on the importance of conserving our elephants and hope they do the right thing.”
“I would like to see communities involved in wildlife conservation and participating as well. I would also like to see human –wildlife conflict mitigated and this can only be done if our communities changed their attitudes towards wildlife.”
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