Paula Kahumbu
2023

Paula Kahumbu

Ecologist/Wildlife Champion

secrets of the elephants

meet paula

Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, is a Kenyan ecologist committed to transforming conservation results in Africa and the world through storytelling, science, advocacy and education. She is one of Africa’s best-known wildlife conservationists and uses film for nature campaigns to educate mass audiences and motivate Africans to take conservation actions. Paula produces and presents Africa’s first wildlife documentary series made by Africans, Wildlife Warriors, highlighting the continent’s conservationists on free channels and in schools across Kenya, and Africa’s first children’s nature series presented by African children, Team Sayari. She holds several awards and honors, was listed among the 25 most influential women of 2022 by the Financial Times, and is a presenter for National Geographic documentary series Secrets of the Elephants.

secrets of the elephants
Nominated by: Natalie Cash FR'21
Class of 2023 Location Kenya

At 15, I won a place on a one-month expedition to Northern Kenya. Twenty-five young adults trekked across 1,000 km of desolate Chalbi desert, climbed mountains and forged rivers to collect rare and unusual specimens of scorpions, woodlice and earwigs. I discovered new scorpion species which I brought to the National Museums of Kenya. This caught the attention of Richard Leakey who encouraged me to pursue research in the wild. He had an open door, was wise, brilliant, and pragmatic. That gave me the courage to dive deep in my own PhD research on the top of a forest-clad mountain in southern Kenya, where I spent eight years studying forest-living savanna elephants — but studying wildlife was inadequate.

“I fought the idea that science was an elite job for foreign scientists. I promoted African-led exploration of our continent and its wildlife as the sustainable way to protect our heritage..”

- Paula Kahumbu

The most meaningful aspect of my work was to fight for our elephant at a time when ivory poachers threatened to decimate the herds. At the time, few Africans were at the helm of any wildlife conservation organization in Africa. As CEO of WildlifeDirect, I mobilized African support to save elephants through a hard-hitting campaign, Hands Off Our Elephants. I pushed boundaries about who could be a conservationist in Kenya through community outreach and education; I fought the idea that science was an elite job for foreign scientists. I promoted African-led exploration of our continent and its wildlife as the sustainable way to protect our heritage.

I want to see an educated citizenry that appreciates wilderness spaces and participates in government discussions, decision making, and actions on the ground to take ownership in defending them. I strongly believe that the economy cannot thrive unless the environment is healthy. Our governments must treat environmental health as the foundation of any aspirations for economic prosperity. My hopes for the future are that outdoor conservation education and exploration are mainstreamed in early education across Africa, as that will transform future generations to take up the cause of conservation at this critical time.

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read about the class of 2023