Paula Kahumbu: Defending rights for elephants, globally

National Geographic Explorer Dr. Paula Kahumbu has devoted her career to protecting elephants from environmental changes and poachers.

Growing up just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, it did not take long for Dr. Paula Kahumbu to fall in love with wildlife. The renowned conservationist spent her high school years interacting with animals in her neighborhood and going on expeditions. 

While conducting Ph.D. research in Kenya’s coastal forests, a chance encounter offered Kahumbu a focal point for her career:  As her team prepared to measure the area’s biodiversity, a group of elephants quietly surrounded them. Instead of confronting the team, the elephants simply laid down to sleep. Kahumbu was immediately struck by the grace of the elephants and their comfort around her.

As a result, Kahumbu decided to focus her Ph.D. research on elephants. A few years later, she is now a champion for elephant rights worldwide. She is the CEO of WildlifeDirect, an organization that helps conservationists directly report and publish their findings online. She also leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the first lady of the Republic of Kenya. 

Kahumbu’s efforts to protect elephants against environmental changes and poaching have gained the support of conservationists in Kenya and around the world. She is recognized as a Kenyan conservation ambassador by Brand Kenya and in 2015, she was granted the title of Order of the Grand Warrior by the Kenyan President for outstanding service. 

As talented as Kahumbu is in the field, she is also a visionary on the page. She is the author of critically acclaimed books, including Owen and Mzee, a children’s book that was adapted into a documentary. She is also a regular contributor at National Geographic magazine and is The Guardian's 'Environment Blogger for Africa.'

After completing her secondary education at Loreto Convent Msongari School in Kenya, Kahumbu was awarded a national scholarship to study ecology and biology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. She received a master’s degree at the University of Florida and a Ph.D. at Princeton University. 

In June 2021, Kahumbu was awarded the Rolex National Geographic Explorer Of The Year for her commitment to preserving wildlife and habitats in Kenya and beyond. 

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