Having spent over four decades working tirelessly to uncover the illegal trade in wildlife, collecting evidence that would become instrumental in the move to ban the international trade in rhino horn and shut down the domestic trade of ivory in China, this week the world’s top wildlife crime investigator, Esmond Bradley Martin, was found murdered in his home in Kenya.
You have most likely never heard of Bradley Martin. The 75-year-old America has dedicated his life to combating the poaching and slaughter of wildlife around the planet. Frequently posing undercover as a buyer, he secretly photographed and documented the vast crime and trade networks that allowed wildlife products to be moved from their origin in Africa to the markets in Asia, compiling reports that were used to close these routes down, and often putting his life at risk in the process.
His sheer doggedness in cracking illegal wildlife crime meant that he was well known and highly respected in the conservation sector, and his death will be a blow to many. Discovered by his wife in their home in Nairobi, Kenya, Bradley Martin is understood to have been stabbed in the neck. Officials in Kenya are saying that to all intents and purposes it looks like a botched robbery, but many are deeply suspicious of this verdict considering his line of work.
This has not been the only loss to conservation this week. In Cambodia, three rangers were murdered after they confiscated the chainsaws and motorbikes from illegal loggers, who had been cutting down protected forest. Describing them as “conservation heroes,” the Wildlife Conservation Society, for whom the rangers worked, describe how they are “deeply saddened by the loss of our colleagues.”
The tragic news comes just after a report revealed the cost last year of the deadly struggle faced by those who put themselves on the front line to protect the environment, wildlife, and natural resources. In 2017 alone, the death toll of people defending the environment hit 197 people, or roughly four deaths a week.
Compiled and published by the campaigning group Global Witness in partnership with The Guardian, the report shows how the number of recorded deaths has risen dramatically from 2002, increasing fourfold over the past 15 years. It comes as an increase in expansion and consumption spreads ever wider into the remaining wilderness, particularly in the developing world.
There is a small glimmer of hope, in that the number of deaths has leveled off in the past four years, but there is still so far to go. The main issue is simply that justice is basically non-existent, with little done when environmentalists are beaten, threatened, and even killed for standing up for the environment and wildlife. Which makes them all the more brave.