American conservationist and anti-ivory smuggling activist murdered in Kenyan home

NAIROBI, Kenya – The death of a famed American conservationist and activist against ivory smuggling has sparked a murder mystery in Kenya.

Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, authored several undercover investigative reports on ivory smuggling and rhino in several countries around the world.

He was found stabbed to dead on Sunday in his home in the affluent Nairobi suburb of Karen on Sunday, police said.

“We are investigating this murder and the killers will be arrested,” said Nairobi Police Commander Japheth Koome. “The American conservationist was found dead in his house in Karen with injuries on his neck.”

His wife, Chryssee Martin, told police that she found her husband's lifeless body at around 4 pm on Sunday when she arrived home from a nature walk. She told police that she and her husband live in separate houses in the compound.

Martin, his wife and colleagues Lucy Vigne and Dan Stiles had recently returned from a research trip to Myanmar, where they worked on a new expose on ivory and rhino horn trafficking, she added.

The former UN special envoy for rhino conservation had two employees at his highly gated compound, a gardener and a cook, at the time of his death.

“We are yet to identify the attackers, but we have already questioned a gardener and a cook who are employed at the home,” said Ireri Kamwende, Nairobi police director of criminal Investigations.

Police added that investigators and witnesses found no signs of a struggle.

Martin was among the world’s leading opponents of the illegal trade in animals and animal parts.

The U.S. citizen risked his life for decades investigating illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn.

His major achievement was successfully lobbying China to shut down its legal rhino horn trade in 1993 and ivory trade last year.

Those bans have failed to shut down black markets completely, according to government statistics and wildlife groups. But they have helped drive down the price of ivory, said Save the Elephants, a Kenyan group, last year.

He would travel to China and around the world, disguising himself as a buyer to find out details of black market prices, said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of WildlifeDirect, an animal rights and conservation organization. She eulogized Martin as a global authority on rhino horn trafficking, saying pachyderms lost a great champion.

“Esmond was at the forefront of exposing the scale of ivory markets in USA, Congo, Nigeria, Angola, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos and recently Myanmar,” Kahumbu posted on Twitter. “He always collaborated with Save the Elephants and worked with many of us generously sharing his findings and views.”

Martin first came to East Africa from the US in the 1970s, when there was widespread slaughter of elephants in the region especially in Kenya, followed by rhinos in the 1980s. In Kenya there were around 20,000 rhinos in 1970, but by the 1990s most had been eliminated, Martin told the Nomad Magazine last year.

“The puzzle was: why were all these rhinos being killed, and where was the horn going?" he asked. “I was looking at the illegal trade in the Indian Ocean based on dhows, and my wife and I wrote a book called Cargoes of the East. Around that time, we discovered that most of the rhino horn from East Africa was going to Yemen.”

His latest report was published by conservation group, Save The Elephant, last year. The findings of a report said that there had been a decline in the ivory trade in China in anticipation of a ban. The 88-page report was authored with his wife and his colleague, Lucy Vigne.

"With the end of the legal ivory trade in China, the survival chances for elephants have distinctly improved," Esmond told the Kenya’s Star Newspaper last year. “We must give credit to China for doing the right thing by closing the ivory trade.”

Martin will be a huge loss to the international conservation community. Many paid tribute to him on social media.

"Conservation has lost an important figure‚ elephants have lost a great champion and the shock of Esmond’s death will be felt around the world,” Save the Elephants posted on Facebook.

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