American wildlife expert murdered in Kenya, no suspects

Esmond Bradley Martin was found dead in his home in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, on Feb 4, with a stab wound in his neck. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SAVE THE ELEPHANTS

NAIROBI (NYTIMES) - He was a fixture in Kenya's wildlife scene, an eccentric American with a shock of white hair, known for meticulous work on the black market prices of ivory and rhinoceros horn.

Now he is the victim in a murder mystery.

The victim, Mr Esmond Bradley Martin, was found dead in his home in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, on Sunday (Feb 4), with a stab wound in his neck.

It is not clear if Mr Martin, who was in his mid-70s, was killed in connection to his strident views or his work.

No doubt he had made many enemies, writing report after report that exposed the depth of the ivory and rhino horn trade across the world that has killed tens of thousands of endangered animals.

His death sent shock waves through East Africa's wildlife circles.

Kenyan police officials said they had yet to identify any suspects. Their leading theory is that Mr Martin was killed in a robbery.

For decades, Mr Martin studied ivory and rhino markets, his passion hardly fading with age.

Mr Martin, who once served as a UN special envoy on rhino conservation, was considered a true expert on the ins and outs of the ivory and rhino horn trade, with deep contacts among traders, carvers, their families and other researchers.

His work "would have exhausted a man half his age", said Mr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, an elephant researcher and friend of Mr Martin's for 45 years.

The Kenyan police said Mr Martin appeared to have been stabbed by an intruder.

But it was hard to fathom why any intruder would have perceived Mr Martin as a physical threat. He was built like a tall vase: thin and delicate, his skin almost translucent.

Friends said he had just returned from a stroll on Sunday afternoon. His wife, Chryssee, who wrote reports with him, was out at the time.

When she returned, she found Mr Martin slumped on the floor with a deep stab wound in his neck and the family's safe open and empty.

"He's totally harmless and I'm sure he didn't put up any resistance," said Mr Daniel Stiles, a wildlife researcher in Kenya who worked closely with Mr Martin. "His last minutes must have been really, really awful, and he didn't deserve to die like that.

"Esmond changed the way we did investigations of the wildlife trade," Mr Stiles said. "He brought that whole quantitative element that helped get the public's attention."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.