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Mourning the Loss of Esmond Martin

By Allan Thornton, President of EIA

The loss of Esmond Martin, found dead in his Nairobi home over the weekend, is a tragic development not just for his family, friends and colleagues, but for the entire international community and all those who supported the protection of Africa's elephants as well as its rhinos.

I have known Esmond personally since we first visited Kenya in 1989, when EIA was undertaking a two-year investigation into the illegal ivory trade. Esmond, in collaboration with his colleague Lucy Vigne, had - until the moment of his death – been generating the best and most important work of his life. Together, Esmond and Lucy have produced countless reports documenting in detail the exploding demand for illegal ivory; a demand that in China, Vietnam and Laos provided impetus for an international movement to ban domestic ivory trade. The relentless efforts of Esmond and his colleagues have helped drive down ivory demand worldwide, and disrupted ivory poaching across much of Africa.

Esmond was dogged in his pursuit of data to document the flow of ivory as well as the exorbitant prices paid for whole tusks. Esmond was not only tireless, but fearless in gathering detailed evidence and statistics that provided a major source of information to governments; law enforcement agencies; other NGO's; and the world press.

He personally produced the first report several years ago that documented declining prices for ivory in China as government enforcement efforts finally began to kick in. He followed a complex trail to expose a thriving laundering operation for African ivory and rhino horn from Vietnam to China. In December 2016, in no small part due to information Esmond brought to light, the Government of China announced it would ban domestic ivory trade by January 1st, 2018.

Esmond and Lucy followed up to produce new information just last year showing that prices for ivory in China had dropped substantially again; this provided the world community with key information validating and verifying the importance of China's domestic ban in reducing ivory demand in the world's biggest market.

Esmond must have been thrilled – and could certainly have viewed as a personal and professional victory – when the Chinese government news agency began to publicly call out Japan - the world's second largest consumer of ivory for taking no action against its own flourishing illegal ivory trade.

Esmond – with his indefatigable energy and efforts – made an indelible and tangible impact in that the Government of China indeed did act to fulfill its commitments to ban domestic ivory trade. His larger legacy will be that he provided the world with new hope and inspiration that Africa's elephants could be saved from the ivory slaughter. Esmond will be sorely missed by all that knew him; the world owes him our gratitude for the outstanding and timely work he produced.

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