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I walk to save elephants

WEDNESDAY LIFE
By Mumbi Kinyua | December 7th 2016
Jim Justus Nyamu.

I just completed my 3,200-kilometre walk from Nairobi to Kampala to Dar es Salaam and back to Nairobi in October this year.

My name is Jim Justus Nyamu, I was born 40 years ago and brought up in Kangema, Murang’a County and mine is a journey not so well known to many.

I studied wildlife management in a college at Moshi, Tanzania and proceeded to do my post graduate course in community development after a few years later.

My interest in wildlife saw me pay particular focus to elephants and I studied them extensively which has given me deep insight into this animal and what is needed for their conservation.

I then worked with Kenya Wildlife Service for a number of years and my work mainly revolved around elephants. It was while here that my interest in conserving these animals peaked and I started to look at Africa’s elephant populations.

I found out that Eritrea, for example, had lost its entire 5,000 elephants within a three-year period and that the same fate had befallen Chad. It caused me to ponder over our country’s elephant population that is already below 24,000 - the same was bound to happen here unless something was done.

So, in 2013, I decided to take my campaign a notch higher and educate people on the importance of elephants by walking across the country.

I covered over 700 kilometres in May 2013, from Masai Mara to Nairobi and in October I walked from Boston to Washington DC in the US covering 900kms.

In 2014, I walked within Meru for 100kms and proceeded to walk from Kwale to Lamu – 375kms with another walk across central province.

The following year, I completed a 150kms walk between Nyeri County and Ndakaini.

During all my walks, I talk to everybody I meet, telling them why it is important to conserve wildlife while also sensitising them to the long term effects that poaching will bring.

My journey across East Africa, which started in May this year, brought it to a total of about 8,500kms since I started my campaign dubbed “ivory is for elephants”.

When I started this campaign, I had to contend with a lot of challenges which were mainly based on the very ignorance I 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.

My mission is to educate, not to arrest people. I do not have the powers to tell people to stop poaching but I can change their attitude towards it.

People need to know that most of our country’s poaching is done outside our parks for example Masai Mara. It is a large number actually, about 78 per cent and people do not know this.

I am happy my campaign has impacted this nation positively. First was the plea I made to government to have an amnesty month and they responded positively, issuing a three week amnesty to return ivory for its mass burning in the same month.

Because of this move, those who either had ivory or rhino horns in their possession returned them without punishment which was unanticipated.

The other thing is that we now have new penalties. In January 2014, the Wildlife Conservation Act was enforced and it spells out stiffer punishment for wildlife related crimes. This was done to discourage poaching.

The community was also given more responsibilities over wildlife resources and equitable sharing of wildlife benefits was introduced. As a result, we now have locals reporting cases where elephants have been killed and soldiers are deployed to those areas.

The next walk is scheduled for March next year and I will walk from Nairobi to Marsabit which is over 500 kilomteres. After this, I intend to walk across five countries from Dar es Salaam to Namibia.

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.

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