A Kenyan conservation activist says he has walked 3,740 kilometres in the East and Southern African regions raising the plight of elephants with the backdrop of rising poaching in the two subregions of the continent.

By Nokuthaba Dlamini

Jim Nyamu, an elephant research scientist, whose campaign is known as Ivory Belongs to Elephants, says he dedicated five months to help save one of the big five species, which he says is on the danger of extinction.

Jim Nyamu has walked over 3,700km to raise awareness on elephant conservation

Nyamu said his campaign is meant to “promote peaceful co-existence between elephants and communities, with a mission to protect African elephants and secure their landscape outside protected areas”.

In an interview, Nyamu who is in Lusaka, Zambia enroute to Malawi, said he has walked though  Kenya and has covered Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but he had to abort his journey to Botswana “due to conservation politics”.

“African countries are seriously hard hit by poaching activities and we have seen a decline from the year 2008 to 2011 where countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana, the largest elephants breeders, declined from Phase 1 to Phase 2 due to high demand from the Asian and European markets, hence my decision to start a grassroots campaign in 2013 dubbed Ivory Belongs to Elephants,” he said.

“All I intend to do is to conserve what we have. For instance, Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has a high potential of growth if the government and relevant stakeholders commit to tightening security for these animals because the country boasts at more than 82 000 elephants second to Botswana, which has more than 130 000. Regional tourism will be boosted effectively if governments take advantage and fully commit to conservation especially in the Kaza Area.”

The Kaza Area or the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, is situated where the international borders of five countries converge. It includes a major part of the Upper Zambezi River and Okavango basins and Delta, the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, the southeastern part of Angola, southwestern Zambia, the northern wildlands of Botswana and western Zimbabwe.

This area is also known as Zambesia.

On his journeys, Nyamu said he had realised that communities had little education about wildlife, which led to several human-wildlife conflicts.

“In Tanzania like Kenya, communities in rural areas found it difficult to accept my campaign at first because of injustices of human-wildlife conflicts mostly in resettlement areas, where people were settled in animal corridors and parks areas,” Nyamu said.

“They saw no benefits of conserving the wildlife, mainly elephants due to that experience where they destroy their crops and kill nor injure human beings. In Zimbabwe in areas like Plumtree,  Lupane, Dete and Lukosi in the Matabeleland provinces, community members and traditional leaders viewed elephants as problem animals that must be killed and eaten. The ratio survey showed that almost everyone is rural communities has eaten an elephant and they said elephants deserved to be reduced, as they caused mass destruction.

Nyamu spent a month in Zimbabwe between September and October, completing his journey in Victoria Falls.

“In Botswana, l only walked for 25 kilometres and l was told that I did not have a clearance permit and also following the report by Elephants Without Borders report that 80 elephants had been poached in the country’s parks, the government officials did not have an interest in hosting me, hence, the decision to exit that country with immediate effect,” he explained.

“In Zambia, cases of human-wildlife conflicts are fewer because their parks are not near resettlement areas. People do not know much about elephants, but they only complained about lions and that made my campaign easier because people were paying attention and some joined in the march.”

Nyamu meets with government officials, conservationists, churches, schools and traditional chiefs among other involved stakeholders.

He advised that governments needed to have specific budgets for wildlife conservation.

The activist will conclude his walks in Malawi, and he will be in that country between October 22 and November 3 rounding the walk.

On his travels, Nyamu has a team of six people who include a logistics person, a driver, a first aid assistant, a photographer and one who helps him liaise with the community.