Conversation: On foot to save jumbos
After reading a conservation magazine, JIM JUSTUS NYAMU developed passion that has seen him go beyond borders to save elephants
Jim Justus Nyamu has been to 11 countries, nine in Eastern and Southern Africa plus the United States and London respectively.
His visits are, however, not tourism-related, and in all his journeys, his preferred method of movement is walking. His mission: to create awareness about wildlife conservation to save elephants.
Through his campaign, Ivory belongs to Elephants, Jim has been walking since 2013 to date and so far he has walked 15,411km in 616 days. During the walks, he has held 912 community meetings in different areas, interacted with 16,340 schools, out of which 9,500 are in Kenya.
His efforts culminted in Ivory Belongs to Elephants walk, a grassroots education campaign geared at engaging local communities who live with wildlife outside protected areas on how best they can manage and benefit from the wildlife.
“The reason I walk is to remind people we have to conserve for heritage, not for tourism. Wildlife is priceless and we have to eliminate the conservation benefits notion,” says Jim, whose love for elephants began at the age of 14 when his uncle brought home a wildlife magazine. He was fascinated by its conservation contents and realised he needed to be in the conservation sector.
First walk lessons
This passion saw him study a wildlife-related course in Tanzania and secure employment with Kenya Wildlife Service and later with African Conservation Centre.
In his line of duty, he saw elephant numbers dwindling and vowed to do something. He resigned and established Elephant Neighbours’ Centre (ENC), a nonprofit Organisation to protect the African elephant and secure their landscapes outside the protected areas.
The organisation places emphasis on a three-tier approach that is integrating community knowledge, environment and livelihoods in resolving principal problems and bias facing conservation in Kenya.
He started by taking pictures of elephants and keeping track available statistics, then display images at shopping malls. However, he noticed a big disconnect between Kenyans and wildlife, with many people viewing wildlife as a threat and nuisance.
This discovery led him to embark on his first walk in 2013, about 500km from Mombasa to Nairobi via Mombasa road with stop overs at major centres. He also passed through Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems. He faced challenges such as community hostility, exhaustion and lack of political support.
“I planned alone, with the help of a few friends. I didn’t see it as an uphill task so I never practised prior. Along the way I realised proper planning was a requirement for a successful walk. Sunburns, headaches, and blisters were the order of the day for all the days I was on the road,” he says.
However, this never discouraged him and in October the same year, he was in the United States of America and organised another walk from Massachusetts to Washington DC, covering 616km. After his walk, the government accepted to destroy six tonnes of ivory.
But despite the good news, he couldn’t rest because, back at home, people were still in denial, saying poaching was not happening. He had to come back and hold more walks around the country before going to the larger Eastern and Southern Africa.
No country is an island
In December 2017, he took his campaign to the United Kingdom. The walk started from Kensington London to Council House College Green Bristol and took 10 days with overnight stopovers.
“During my walks, I have learned a lot of lessons. A major one being there is a need for conservation integration and cross-border programmes. This is because no country is independent in matters of conservation as cross border animal migrations predated nation-state boundaries in Africa,” says Jim.
Apart from raising awareness, through the walks, Jim has been able to push for the government to review penalties for poachers. Initially, culprits 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 indicating culprits would face life imprisonment or Sh20 million fine or both.
For 2020, he intends to come up with an educational centre at Tsavo National Park, where people will get information on conservation in partnership with KWS. He is also planning walk in the Horn of Africa, informed by desire to bring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia together in conservation.
Jim has well wishers to thank for funding his campaigns and walk. For sustainability, they sell merchandise such as branded t-shirts and wrist bands.