At just 24 years of age, Mpayon Loiboitongo’o has become a household name in Samburu. Popularly known as Mama Tembo, Mpayon is known for her undying dedication towards elephant conservation and is the face and voice behind “L’Tome Nkaina”, a new popular song that celebrates communities and conservation.
Born and raised in Lerata in Samburu County, the last-born in a family of nine always loved to sing.
“I was a jovial and playful child. Some of the fondest memories from my childhood was singing while playing and herding goats with my agemates,” she says, smiling. The group would also sing for Samburu warriors. And, as fate would have it, that’s how she met her late husband — when she was just 11 years old.
“I don’t remember the exact age we got married after that.”
Mpayon has three children aged seven, five and a half, and four years, respectively. Her firstborn is blind and deaf, and lives at Wamba Children’s Home.
In 2017, when she was pregnant with her last child, Mpayon’s husband left for Nairobi to work as a night guard. He never returned. He died in the city.
“We still don’t know what happened to him. His death broke me. I didn’t know I could move on or take care of our young family, but here I am,” says Mpayon, who still lives in Lolgereded, in her late husband’s home. To earn a living, she keeps goats and makes ornaments for sale.
But aside from that, she is the leader of Mama Tembos, a group of Turkana and Samburu women chosen by their community to monitor wildlife and livestock corridors in the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem.
“Towards the end of 2017, Save the Elephants came to our village to recruit people who would take care of the elephants. A meeting was held, and I was chosen as Mama Tembo unanimously, especially because I am a widow.”
Now, the Mama Tembos record animal movements and give early warnings of attempts to create settlements on pathways used by elephants and other wildlife in the region.