Our friend of the month is Jim Justus Nyamu from Kenya. Jim is an indefatigable walker for elephants and the Executive Director of the Elephant Neighbours Centre (ENC). Jim has walked across East and Southern Africa, as well as the UK, and the USA, to raise awareness for elephant conservation. In July he’ll be walking from Kenya to Eritrea, crossing Ethiopia, as he attempts to get media and community support for elephant protection in the Horn of Africa.
Did you grow up close to nature, and can you remember when you saw your first elephant?
I was born next to the Aberdares Forest in Kenya. When I was 7 years old I used to hear gun shots from the forest and my grandmother mum would tell me it was wildlife officials killing elephants . Some boys would bring elephant meat to school and I didn't like it because it was so tough. In 1987 I saw both a dead and living elephant for the first time.
Do you consider yourself first and foremost as an activist and campaigner, or a wildlife scientist?
I am a Research Scientist. When I walk I share my research with communities, and try to educate them on how to live with elephants and benefit from their presence.
You have been on many epic walks to raise consciousness for elephants. Do you find these walks physically exhausting, or are you buoyed by the support of people you meet along the way?
My walks are exhausting, both in preparation, fundraising and walking . It often takes me 3 or 4 months in preparation and another 3 to 4 months of walking and talking. Nevertheless I enjoy doing it because every region I walk through is different. Communities, corporations and governments are supportive, and sometimes join me on the walk.
Do you feel you’ve made progress in changing public opinion about elephants?
Yes. After my 31-day walk in the USA from Boston to DC in 2013 the authorities destroyed 6 tonnes of ivory. In 2016 I helped bring East African governments together on elephant policy, and encouraged the Kenyan authorities to introduce new penalties for wildlife violations. In 2017, after walking across southern England, I was invited to the House of Lords during the debate that ended in new ivory legislation. We have brought organisations together, and ensured media coverage where there was none.
Will you ever stop walking?!
No. I will continue walking, and uniting countries to protect elephants.