by Flower, MAKE UP

Esmond Bradley Martin, the man who saved Africa\'s elephants – but made countless enemies


Snappily dressed like Tom Wolfe in a cream linen suit, a silk handkerchief spilling from his breast pocket and his silver hair flopping over his forehead, Esmond Bradley Martin, who was murdered in Nairobi last week, looked more like a literary critic than the sworn enemy of the illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn. He was a man with impeccable manners and a fondness for string quartets and antebellum architecture. 

But beneath that deceptively fey exterior he was as tough as teak and totally fearless as he worked undercover, posing as a buyer to expose the smuggling cartels and their international trafficking routes between Africa and south-east Asia.

I first got to know him in the Eighties during an assignment to expose the slaughter of elephants in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. Driven by the soaring price of ivory, ruthless gangs of highly armed poachers were transforming the country’s wildlife stronghold into bloody killing fields, and without his help I could never have unravelled the web of corruption that began with park rangers and reached up into the highest echelons of President Moi’s government. 

Subsequently we became friends. He and Chrysee, his wife, lived in the leafy Nairobi suburb of Langata, adjoining the city’s national park, and I would lunch with him there; but whenever he came to London we would always meet up, not at the Knightsbridge Green Hotel where he stayed, but at a greasy-spoon café in the Gray’s Inn Road where, over a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie, he would drip-feed me the latest revelations he had managed to extract from his visits to the remote and dangerous international hotspots where the illegal ivory cartels plied their trade.

Born in New York in 1941, he moved to Britain in 1970 to take a PhD in geography at Liverpool, arriving in Kenya soon afterwards, just at the time when the elephant holocaust was beginning. By then he had already begun working with Chrysee to write Cargoes of the East, a history of the dhow trade between East Africa and the Gulf.

Inevitably, Bradley Martin began to pick up the rumours circulating in Mombasa and Lamu; how consignments of elephant tusks were being smuggled out of Africa, hidden in the bottom of ocean-going dhows under piles of mangrove poles. At the same time he discovered how new wealth from oil was fuelling an unprecedented demand for rhino horns in Yemen, where they are prized as handles for jambiyyas (traditional daggers). 

The deeper he dug into the booming trade in wildlife products, the more he became determined to devote his life to staunching the flow of horns and tusks that was bleeding Africa dry. By now he had also met up with Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the world’s leading authority on elephant behaviour and founder of Save the Elephants, the Kenyan-based conservation body devoted to protecting the species. 

Douglas-Hamilton had been among the first to create an international outcry at the poachers』 massive onslaught on Africa’s dwindling elephant herds and the two men worked together for the next 18 years. 「Esmond was one of conservation’s great unsung champions,」 he says, 「meticulously gathering data on the world’s ivory and rhino horn markets with no care for his personal safety.」

Bent customs officials, crooked politicians, dodgy dealers and their middlemen – nobody was safe from his investigations. Not even ambassadors who exported rhino horns in their diplomatic bags, or the official at the Italian embassy in Lusaka who he fingered for trying to smuggle ivory out of Zambia in a sack of dog meat.

Among his closest friends and neighbours was Jonathan Scott, the wildlife photographer and presenter of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary. 「I stopped by for tea the day before he was brutally murdered,」 says Scott. 「He had not been in the best of health but seemed in good spirits, buoyed up by his latest overseas adventures in the murky world of the wildlife dealers.」

So who killed Bradley Martin? First indications are that it was simply a botched raid by the local low-life – nothing unusual in a city sometimes referred to as 「Nairobbery」. Or was there a more sinister motive? He was a man with many enemies, and when he died from a knife wound to the neck at his house on Monday he had only just returned from an investigative trip to Myanmar, yet another destination that had fallen under his spotlight. 

While police investigations continue, one thing is certain: his achievements are there for all to see in Kenya’s national parks and wildlife reserves and wherever elephants continue to roam due to the untiring efforts of this extraordinary conservation hero.


  • Flower
  • 2018-02-12 19:09:56
  • 85


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