Jim Nyamu is a man on a mission. With Kenyan flag in hand, he has spent the past month crossing the northeastern United States on foot, stopping along the way to tell people how a growing demand for elephant ivory, especially in Asia, has fueled an increase in poaching that could drive some elephant populations to extinction.
Why United States? Because Americans, Nyamu says, aren't aware of the severity of the problem.
"Many people ask me the same question: '[Why should we as Americans] be bothered by the poaching which is happening?' " he says shortly after completing his 900-kilometer trek from Boston to Washington. "And I still say back to them that America is still the second leading consumer of ivory.”
Since his arrival in the nation's capital, where his visit has been timed to coincide with Friday's International March for Elephants
— an event that includes simultaneous marches in about 30 cities around the world — he's been discussing the elephants' plight.
A primary challenge he encounters, he says, is that people often admire products made from ivory without associating the items with the elephants' demise — that when poachers cut off the elephants' ivory tusks, the animals usually die.
The World Wildlife Fund says nearly 100 elephants are killed every day in Africa, illegally, by poachers.
According to Crawford Allan, WWF North American international wildlife trade monitoring program director, poaching has been particularly devastating for a subspecies known as the forest elephant.
“Over the past 10 years, they have lost about 50 percent of the elephants in the forests of Africa and, therefore, in the next 10 years, there is a potential that all forest elephants will be gone completely," he says. "That whole subspecies will be gone, leaving the savannah elephants only in the rest of eastern southern Africa.”
Allan says deterring poachers who are often driven by organized, transnational criminal syndicates, is a massive challenge for African nations, whose rangers are often underfunded, poorly trained and lack the equipment required to cover vast swaths of land in order to protect elephant populations.
“You are looking for the needle in the haystack, literally, a lot of the times," he says. "Elephants are very big animals, but actually in a huge landscape, they are very, very small to find and detect. And so, it is very, very hard to protect those animals.”
As for Jim Nyamu, his foot campaign to raise awareness about poaching will not end in Washington, as he has recently planned long walks on the West Coast of the United States and in China.