Winner avatar
2016 WSCF
2014 Whitley Award
1999 Whitley Award Runner-up
Paula Kahumbu Kenya Terrestrial
Hands off our elephants!

Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in Memory of Anthea and Lindsey Turner

A voice for elephants

Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, launched in 2013. One of the Kenya’s most influential conservation voices, Paula believes that the country’s experience and historical knowledge of elephants places it in a leading role in the global effort to save the species from extinction.

Paula Kahumbu profile


An African Icon

African elephants are the largest land animal on Earth and are totems for many African tribes. Kenya is home to the longest running studies on elephants which have revealed that they can distinguish between different human tribes from their language – some tribes are more dangerous than others for elephants.



Poaching crisis

In 1989 Kenya lit a pyre of ivory representing thousands of elephants killed by poachers. This led to a global agreement to ban the ivory trade. However, the last five years have seen a massive resurgence in poaching across Africa, reaching a ten-year high in 2013, when more than 35,000 elephants were illegally killed for their tusks. Today, Kenya is the leading transit country for ivory out of Africa.

Hands off our elephants


Paula’s ambitious project aims to:

  • Use the media to drive behaviour change, empowering communities to respond through a new anonymous wildlife crime hotline.
  • Oversee adoption of new legislation and enforcement, including the training of investigators and prosecutors to tackle poaching and illegal trade.
  • Reduce demand for ivory through international diplomatic relations driven by meetings, presentations, media and corporate partnerships.

Why it matters:

  • Nearly 100 elephants are killed each day in Africa.
  • Elephant tourism contributes to 12% of Kenya’s GDP and over 300,000 jobs.
  • Poaching threatens the economy, security and stability of Kenya.

“People across Kenya are now seeing that protecting wildlife is their duty.”

project Update

With WFN funding Paula is working against the odds to tackle poaching and ivory trafficking by calling for reform of Kenya’s legal system, including increased penalties, to deter criminals and reduce cases of wildlife crime. She has developed significant public outreach and has engaged the Chinese community to improve understanding and cooperation. Paula received The Order of the Grand Warrior Award from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources and has been named as a Round Square Idealist.

  • Kenya’s new Wildlife Act was adopted in 2013 to reform the prosecution process and penalties given to poachers. To support implementation of the Act, Paula’s team has produced a court manual for the new Wildlife Act to assist Kenya’s judges, police, and prosecutors in charging and sentencing ivory criminals.
  • Wildlife Direct have also cooperated with the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions to improve the success of wildlife crime prosecutions, holding two major training events on the new Wildlife Act for 80 prosecutors and magistrates.
  • The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) has agreed to gazette an additional 65 prosecutors for wildlife crimes, thereby increasing capacity to handle cases. In addition, following lobbying by Paula’s team Kenya’s International and Organized Crime Court has confirmed it will include wildlife crime; and  an international arrest warrant was issued against a suspected ivory trafficking kingpin. A wildlife crime hotline was set up in Nakuru County. Following this initial trial, the hotline will be replicated elsewhere.
  • Paula’s Hands off our Elephants public campaign raised awareness and mobilised participation of local people against wildlife crime in Kenya and their two #Tweet4Elephants online discussions, reached 39 million people worldwide.
  • In addition, the team participated in World Elephant Day on August 12th; and coordinated Nairobi’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos on 4th October (3,000 marchers attended). The project has also received publicity in Newsweek, the Telegraph, and National Geographic and produced a comic, Roba and the Poachers, for school children.
  • Kenya’s First Lady has recommitted to her role as the Patron of the campaign and has been helping to promote elephant conservation in Kenya and other African nations.