A leading American investigator into the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade has been fatally stabbed at his home, according to police in Kenya.
Esmond Bradley Martin was found with a stab wound to the neck at his Nairobi home on Sunday after a concerned relative went to check up on him after they were unable to get in touch with him.
Conservationist Paula Kahumbu said the 75-year-old was at the forefront of exposing ivory traffickers in the US, Congo, Vietnam, Nigeria, Angola, China and more recently Burma.
He had spent decades tracking the movement of animal products mostly from Africa to Asian markets.
Ms Kahumbu, the chief executive of elephant protection group Wildlife Direct, said the death was a “very big loss for conservation”.
“He was one of the most important people at the forefront of exposing the ivory trade, addressing the traffickers and dealers themselves,” Ms Kahumbu said.
She said Mr Martin was due to publish a report revealing how the ivory trade had moved from China to surrounding countries.
The former UN special envoy for rhino conservation played a key role in China banning its legal rhino horn trade in 1993 with his research. His work also put pressure on China to end legal ivory sales – the ban came into effect on New Year’s Day.
Ms Kahumbu added: “His work revealed the scale of the problem and made it impossible for the Chinese government to ignore.”
British High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey paid tribute to the conservationist in a Twitter post.
He wrote: “Shocked and very sad to hear of the death of Esmond Bradley Martin. A passionate and committed man who made a big difference to our planet. May he rest in peace.”
Mr Martin is the second prominent conservationist to die in east Africa in the past year with South African Wayne Lotter being fatally shot in Tanzania in August.
Mr Lotter’s work also targeted ivory smuggling from Africa to Asia.
An estimated 110,000 elephants have been killed by poachers in the past 10 years with crime syndicates controlling the illicit trade.
The number of African elephants, whose habitat has also halved in size, has dwindled from five million a century ago to just 400,000.
The rhino population is estimated to be less than 30,000.