Ivory belongs to Elephants

In February this year,  Wildlife conservation activist and CEO of Elephant Neighbors Center (ENC) (a Non-Governmental Organization whose mission is to protect the African elephant and secure landscape for elephants outside protected areas) Mr. Jim Nyamu set out on an important mission, Create public awareness on poaching and the plight of elephants in our country by walking from Mombasa to Nairobi. He has since covered about 1500km on foot having traversed other areas that include;  Maasai Mara in Narok County, Mai Mahiu, Naivasha, Nakuru, Nyahururu, Nanyuki, Laikipia, Wamba, Archer’s Post in Samburu, Isiolo and Meru. Mr. Nyamu has achieved quite a feat that also saw the First Lady Excellency Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta accompanied by Prof Wakhungu (Environment cabinet secretary), KWS Director, Mr William Kiprono and other officials partake in even just so for a few kilometers.

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The noble endeavor came to a close on the 29th of June with a ceremonial walk to the Ivory Burning Site in Nairobi National Park to pay tribute to poached elephants.  The site was set up in remembrance of the iconic incineration of tonnes of ivory stockpile in 1989 by retired President Daniel Arap Moi. The walk, dubbed ‘Ivory for Elephants‘ was under the banner of Elephants for Kenya, a coalition comprising individuals and organisations, cutting across all sectors of society united against elephant poaching and sensitising the public on the importance of elephants to Kenya’s economy and people’s livelihoods. The organisations involved included Elephant Voices, University of Nairobi, Elephant Neighbors Center, Maniago Safaris, African Eden, Youth for Conservation, Save the Elephants, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) and Stand Up Shout Out.

From Jim’s diary we get a few excerpts to help us delve into his world and get a feel of how his experience was…

9th February Flag off of Ivory belongs to Elephants walk.

I started the day with my team at Nakumatt Likoni at around 9 am. I met with the branch manager Mr. Aswani and briefed him about the walk. He then flagged us off at 10 am. We were then joined by the Nakumatt staff and together with my team the procession started from Nakumatt Likoni escorted by a traffic police officer. I led the walk through Kenyatta Avenue via Tononoka traversing Kibarani into Makupa. It is at this point that I was interviewed by several media houses. Mombasa Island, being a very busy town with a large population, many vehicles and narrow roads, is characterized by heavy traffic congestion especially Kenyatta avenue where the walk began, this is due to the heavy traffic flow coming from the Likoni ferry. So for us to hold traffic on such a major road, it was obviously expected that motorists would be highly inconvenienced to the point that some hurled insults. One truck driver for instance told us to hold our demonstration in remote places like Isiolo (a town in Northern Kenya) where there is no traffic, only camels. (This was however humorous especially because of his native Swahili accent, they are so eloquent and convincing in how they speak, I think one day I just might walk in Isiolo: lots of elephants there too). Many of the locals however were very supportive and had lots of encouraging words. Many are aware of the elephant situation in the country which I had anticipated given that there was a demonstration of a similar theme held in Mombasa town some few days back. Being the first day, I was surprised that the weather condition was in my favor. It was cloudy all morning hence unusually low temperatures for an area of such low altitude. (Maybe God was setting a fast pace for me) It is because of this weather that I was able to walk all the way to Mikindani a distance of about 17km despite the late flag off in the morning which was delayed 2 hours due to logistical issues. On reaching Mikindani, I was joined by Ivan of African Free Press and after a short interview and taking a few photos I extended the walk together with him for another kilometer. Satisfied by the days turn out of events, we went back to Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and called it a day.

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13th February, Five days after flag off

I left the camp much earlier today as compared to yesterday. At around 7:30am, having covered almost five kilometers, My good friend Captain George flew past me at a low altitude and saluted from his KWS aircraft, he is a great man and I feel honored. The Captain was my college mate and this noble gesture reminded me that I was not alone in this fight. As I walked on, I encountered 5 carcasses, 1 jackal, 1 hyena, 1 African, hare a mongoose and a vervet monkey all at different points. My guess was they had been run over by fast moving vehicles. I felt so sad and distracted it even slowed down my pace. I stopped at around 10.00am to take my usual rest which happened to be in a wildlife watering point. I also had to take a few gulps of water. The nurse checked my blisters, a little massage and I had my light meal before I got ready for the midday and afternoon walk. In the afternoon I covered another 15km the sun was a little scorching but I managed to meet my target. I made my stop for the day 15km past our campsite for today (Wildlife Works) in Maungu town and then came back to Wildlife Works where we had a very warm welcome from Rob and the team. They gave us tents for the night. My blisters are getting worse, they are quite big and my left foot is swollen. One of the team members won’t even look at my feet, says they are too fragile to massage, another threatens to burst the blisters when I’m asleep because they are too large. I think tomorrow I’ll walk in my open shoes, at least in the morning hours. The internet connection here is great, I haven’t slept on a bed in a while, it feels great….am going to bed a happy man! Thank you Rob and thank you Wildlife Works as a whole.

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14th February, Valentines Day!!

I started my walk from Maungu set for Voi junction. Not sure why, but I had so much energy today, I managed to cover 30km by noon (maybe it’s the Valentine mood that has plagued my team, they are all so happy). Probably because I received a call that we had been given a valentines treat by a lady who learnt about the walk on Facebook (am grateful to my very efficient communication officer, all info is always up on time). This was from a lady I dint even know. She made reservations for the whole team at Tsavo lodge. Apart from that, she bought us meals and enough water to last us for 5 days. At around 5:30, though tired, I went with the team to the David Sheldrick station in Tsavo East National Park and here, I met my friends, the Ele’s, this was the best valentines ever. I wished the female jumbos happy valentines in person. How awesome is that! They’ll be talking about me for ages, haha We took so many photos with the gentle giants, they are so playful and friendly I can’t believe there’s a soul out there that would harm such an incredible creature. We got back to the lodge and I was visited by senior Assistant Director KWS (Tsavo Ecosystem), the senior Research Scientist and the Community Warden who later joined me for dinner. We had a lengthy and healthy conversation with them and they really encouraged me and offered so much support for the cause. One team member has busted my blisters, which are now three, my right foot is quite swollen I have decided to soak it in cold water this time. We are really enjoying our stay here, some of the team members are a bit sad being away from their loved ones on such a special day, but nevertheless, I can still hear them laughing from their rooms, their energy is just amazing.

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17th February

Having slept for an hour, I left at 6am as usual in the company of the rangers. The walk started at Man Eater’s junction. Here, there are no settlement at all since we are at the heart of Tsavo east and west. On the way, we encountered 3 troops of baboons, 2 hyenas and two giraffes that were peacefully feeding along the road, a caracal, a vervet monkey, a mongoose and a jackal. We had the chance to meet Lucy from Save the Elephants and two gentlemen from Walt Disney who were with her as they headed back to Nairobi. We covered an astonishing 47km today, like I said earlier, “If you want to walk far, walk together”. The rangers are extremely physically fit! They just keep going, which is a good thing, they motivated me so much. For the first time I drunk all the water I had carried. The rangers too emptied all their hydration bags (that’s what they call them) and we blamed it on the scorching sun. The walk came to an end at 7pm. My team was so proud, but concerned that I might have pushed myself a bit too hard, and now as I write this, I think I did. I can’t feel my feet, it’s like the blisters don’t exist anymore. I can see the wounds but can’t feel any pain. Sounds like a good thing, but we’re all a bit worried. I hope my nervous system is okay, I got pins-and-needles that just won’t go away. We’ve pitched our tents at Mtito Andei Tsavo East gate, this is the halfway kilometre mark between Mombasa and Nairobi.  My team are a bit depressed from worrying about my feet, though they try as much as they can to hide it, I can see the look in their eyes when the nurse is examining my feet, I think they’re more scared than I am. I’ll just sign off now and go sit with them, it is the last night with the rangers, and we’ll have a kind off a farewell.

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Jim and a team of rangers

21st February

Today I left Sultanhamud for Kima at 6.15am. I was to meet Mary from Action for Cheetahs. I covered 14km before meeting her, my support team and a group of pupils from Kavuko Primary School and Kiima Kiu secondary School. The students are scouts and members from the wildlife club in their school. They somehow reminded me of my days back in primary school. I was a founder member of the wildlife club in my high school. I told them briefly the main purpose of my walk though I knew Mary had done so prior to our meeting, (they needed to hear it from the Elephants mouth). They were ready to walk with me for a few miles. The terrain here is quite hilly and I was afraid I will drag because of the little ones, but I was shocked to see them climb the hilly roads with so much energy, BRAVO little ones. As we walked, Dr. Cynthia Moss an old elephant matriarch from Amboseli Elephant Trust joined us to show her support. Even with a twisted ankle, she managed to walk with me for about 10 meters. She also brought us a gift of wrist bands printed with a strong message “DON’T BUY IVORY”. I gave some children and my team members each wore one. Thanks Cynthia. We covered 9km to Salama town, had lunch before meeting students from Kiima Kiu Secondary School. The people of Salama had so much to tell us about elephants, very friendly people. I think we were given a better service at the restaurant when they realized who we are. They had seen us on TV and had been waiting eagerly for the day we would pass by their town. They really admired the wrist bands and I distributed some at random to a few lucky chaps. (Thanks again Cynthia, you’re a lifesaver). My sincere gratitude goes out to the highway patrol officers for making the walk a success. They really helped in controlling the fast moving traffic, and ensuring that the students crossed the road safely. Together with the secondary school students we covered another 16km to Malili centre. Mary has accommodated me and the entire team for the night. For a relief I will sleep on a bed after days camping in a sleeping bag. I can hear my support team chatting around the bonfire and others playing poker with Mary. I wish I could join them but I have to wake up early tomorrow. Wonder why they haven’t come to say goodnight yet, they always come at around this time…….maybe for a change I’ll go say goodnight instead. “Big mistake Jim!”

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23rd February

Today being the last day, I can say excitement woke me up earlier than usual. At 6.30am I received a call from Anabella from Maniago safaris (She is like a mother to me) asking where I was. She was already at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (a few Kilometers from camp) waiting. We met at Small world and I was surprised to see a very big team from Maniago safaris ready to walk with me. The staff told me that Manaigo offices had been closed for the first time in history on a Saturday. Together with Maniago safaris was Dr Sitati: Head Species/Elephant and Rhino Program World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Kenya and his team. The walk destined to end at the Aboretum grounds started at 10.30am and along the way we were joined by a bus full of members from Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and others from Elephant voices who also walked with us all the way. Students from The University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University wildlife clubs also joined us. The energy in this young people was immense. They sang and danced and waved, encouraging passersby to come walk with us. The crowd kept getting bigger and louder. Our convoy was getting longer and longer. I was wrong last night, Kenyans really do care about our Elephants. Ever since I started this walk, I walked fastest today. One of my team members said it was like I was walking with the rangers again…….. And I replied, “son,……this time I have a whole army”!! Good Job Kenyans! Good Job. People will always lend a helping a hand to a man who tries hard We walked through Nairobi City to our finishing point at Aboretum. We received a warm welcome amid cheers from a large group of energetic people. Later, Dr.Kagiri and I received the Chief guest The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Wildlife; Mr Gathara, The Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS) spokesman Mr. Mbugua and together we held a press briefing and gave a few short speeches. Very inspiring speeches by the two and the very funny speech by Dr.Kagiri. I introduced every member of my team and they surprised me with a lovely gift of an elephant carving with my new nickname “JIMBO” engraved………thanks guys! I couldn’t have made it without you!!  So everyone asks me what next Jim?……….. Well my blisters are dry now, I have the best support team ever and a strong will , I could walk round the globe for the elephants, we’re not even halfway in the fight against poaching……. to me, the Walk has just began.

                                     “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” Francis of Assisi

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                         Jim accompanied by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and other officials

                                     

So what next? The Maasai Mara – Mt Kenya walk here I come in May ….. Welcome to the next exhilarating, amorous and longest WALK.

Here is a link for those interested in reading the whole adventure; http://www.elephantneighborscenter.org/files/jim_diary.PDF

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