- - Monday, February 5, 2018

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a murder mystery the features a world of suspects with a motive, Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, author of several groundbreaking undercover reports on ivory smuggling and rhino poaching in countries around the globe, was found dead Sunday, stabbed in the neck in his home in the affluent Nairobi suburb of Karen, police said Monday.

The killing of the famed American conservationist and activist against ivory smuggling has stunned this country and sent a shock wave through the global conservation community.

With his plume of white hair, a trademark colorful handkerchief spilling out of his suit pocket, and a fearlessness in taking on poachers and the black market traders who enabled them, Mr. Martin was an inspiration and a pioneer in the systematic research into illegal networks, Julian Rademeyer, author of “Killing for Profit,” a book about rhino horn trafficking, told The Associated Press.

“He was prepared to go to some of the most remote places on Earth to dig up information,” Mr. Rademeyer said.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec said in a statement that Mr. Martin’s work “had a profound impact and advanced efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking across the planet.”

“African wildlife has lost a great friend, but Esmond’s legacy in conservation will endure for years to come,” Mr. Godec said.

Kenyan authorities have released few details in the early hours since the body of Mr. Martin, 76, was discovered. The Kenyan newspaper People Daily said he had suffered three deep stab wounds to the neck.

“We are baffled over the motive of killing because the house was not disturbed and nothing was stolen,” Karen Divisional Police Commander Cunningham Suiyanka told the Kenyan paper.

The conservationist’s wife, Chryssee Martin, told police that she found her husband’s lifeless body at around 4 p.m. on Sunday when she arrived home from a nature walk. She told police that she and her husband lived in separate houses in the compound.

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

The former U.N. special envoy for rhino conservation had two employees at his highly gated compound, a gardener and a cook, at the time of his death. Authorities were not suggesting a link to his work, the AP reported.

“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.

Over the decades of his work, the New York-born Mr. Martin became one of the world’s most voluble and authoritative critics of the illegal trade in animals and animal parts, traveling to places such as Yemen, Sudan and Laos as part of his research. Friends say he regularly risked his life investigating illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn.

The killing was another reminder of the risks that conservationists and law enforcement agents run in taking on lucrative illegal animal parts trading networks. South African elephant conservationist Wayne Lotter, whose work led to the breakup of major poaching rings, was killed in August in Tanzania. Police have said Lotter was killed as part of a botched robbery.

Lobbying China

His biggest achievements included lobbying China to shut down its legal rhino horn trade in 1993 and then to ban all 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, and put a serious dent in the market.

Traveling to remote parts of China and elsewhere, Mr. Martin would disguise 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 Mr. Martin as a global authority on rhino horn trafficking, saying the endangered species 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,” Ms. Kahumbu said in a Twitter post. “He always collaborated with Save the Elephants and worked with many of us generously sharing his findings and views.”

Martin Mulama, a rhino specialist with the World Wildlife Fund and former Kenyan government official who worked with Mr. Martin, said the American did the legwork to prove rumors about the illegal wildlife trade, thereby encouraging officials to take action.

“He tried to unearth some of these difficult things,” Mr. Mulama said. “He would actually come with evidence to show that this is actually happening.”

Mr. Martin first came to East Africa from the U.S. in the 1970s, when Kenya was the epicenter of a widespread slaughter of elephants in the region, followed by rhinos in the 1980s. In 1970 about 20,000 rhinos were in Kenya, but most had been eliminated by the 1990s, Mr. Martin told 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. … Around that time, we discovered that most of the rhino horn from East Africa was going to Yemen.”

His latest report was published last year by conservation group Save The Elephants. The findings in a report said the ivory trade had declined in China in anticipation of a ban. The 88-page report was authored with his wife and Ms. Vigne.

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

Mr. 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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