Environmental Hero: Chris Leadismo | One Earth
Environmental Hero: Chris Leadismo

Image credit: Courtesy of Jane Wynyard, Save The Elephants

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Environmental Hero: Chris Leadismo

Head of wildlife security with Save the Elephants (STE), Leadismo and his team help protect Samburu elephants in northern Kenya from human-elephant conflict and poaching. 

Save the Elephants, a research and conservation organization, conducts pioneering research into both the behavior and ecology of elephants to provide necessary data on the future of wild elephants and propose solutions for an amicable relationship between this magnificent, intelligent species and humans. As innovators, STE deploys satellite tracking collars on elephants and, with its partners, currently tracks 400 wild elephants across Africa. These collars transmit the locations of elephants via a tracking app so STE can map their habits in real-time, analyze their movements and gather intimate knowledge about their population.  

Image credit: Courtesy of Naiya Raja

Leadismo, a Samburu, has worked with Save the Elephants for 14 years and was witness to the brutal killing of elephants in northern Kenya during the height of the poaching epidemic that hit in 2009. In 2012 the elephant poaching crisis was at an all-time high, prompting the government to help recruit more rangers when the area was akin to a war zone making it easier for poachers to sneak in. These poachers worked in armed gangs, and were dangerous to both the rangers and elephants alike. Leadismo often spent months away from his family to conduct missions even when his life was at stake. 

Today, thanks to conservation efforts, improved law enforcement and harsher penalties for wildlife crime, poaching has reduced in Kenya. Instead, elephants now face a new threat – human-wildlife conflict. In Samburu, as poaching has decreased, conflict killings have increased. Across the savannahs of Africa, conflict with humans is emerging as a new vital priority. 

According to the International Union for Conservation, there are between 420,00 and 650,000 African elephants alive today. Africa’s savannahs have lost a quarter of their elephants in the last decade.  Due to poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss, African elephants are likely to disappear from much of their range where they play an important ecological and cultural role.

As part of his work, Leadismo gathers vital information from elephant crime scenes and trains others to do similar work. 

Image credit: Courtesy of Jane Wynyard, Save The Elephants

When he is not on a mission looking for elephant carcasses or poachers, Leadismo works with local communities in an effort to bring peace to volatile conditions in the north. The Samburu are a Nilotic people from north-central Kenya - semi-nomadic pastoralists who mainly herd cattle and goats. For generations, the Samburu have respected the elephants that live beside them. Their traditional beliefs include elephants as part of their clan. As for Leadismo, this is not only a job or his livelihood – he has devoted his life to saving elephants.

Leadismo was a finalist for the African Ranger award. In 2017, he delivered a powerful speech to a legislative panel in Hong Kong representing both STE and African rangers. In 2018, Hong Kong followed China’s lead by declaring their intention to ban their domestic ivory trade. Willing to risk his life for elephants because of his love and compassion for animals, Leadismo always puts his heart into his work. He believes that when you follow your passion and put your willingness toward what you are meant to do, you will do it successfully. 

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