By Raffi Hemacha ’20
On April 9, 2018, the Loomis Chaffee community came together to listen to Kenyan conservationist and activist Paula Kahumbu. Kahumbu graduated from the University of Bristol, and earned a master’s degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville and a doctorate from Princeton University. In 2010, Kahumbu was awarded a National Geographic Buffett Award for conservation leadership in Africa, and in 2014, she was awarded the Whitley Fund for Nature Award. In addition, she is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
Kahumbu has always possessed an interest in animals since she was young. “I had the most extraordinary childhood,” said Kahumbu. “I had four brothers, four sisters, a very large family, and there was a lot of wildlife around us, and we always loved to explore it,” Kahumbu added. When she was a child, Ms. Kahumbu met Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey. Kahumbu frequently spoke with Leakey about nature and wildlife. Through these conversations, Kahumbu developed a love of nature, and especially elephants. “I studied elephants because I believe they are one of the most beautiful and magnificent creatures on the planet,” said Kahumbu.
Kahumbu desired to do more with her love for elephants. While she loved animals, she explained to Loomis Chaffee students that most Kenyans lack access to wildlife reserves, national parks, or quality nature-related television programming. Further, most Kenyans are raised with a dislike for animals. A large number of African citizens think of elephants as simply a source of danger. As CEO of Wildlife Direct, Ms. Kahumbu strives to improve the relationship between the Kenyan people and wildlife. She hopes that with her activism, Kenyans will learn to appreciate wildlife. She has supported the creation of locally-produced educational television programs that feature wildlife native to Kenya to increase public interest.
Further, the popularity of ivory in foreign countries has supported poaching in Kenya. Such poaching has declined the population of elephants in Kenya. Kahumbu showed the students gruesome photographs of poached elephants that had been killed for their tusks. Kahumbu led Wildlife Direct’s 2013 campaign, “Hands Off Our Elephants,” to take action on this issue. She enlisted celebrities in Kenya to spread the message, end corruption in the courts, and stiffen sentences for apprehended poachers. Since 2013, the campaign was successful in limiting the number of poachings.