Esmond Martin

by Bill Clark

We were never close but we were friendly—on the same side in every fight. And we cooperated so frequently over the years that we came to anticipate each other’s involvement in the work that we shared. The news of Esmond Bradley Martin’s murder shocked me deeply.

Esmond was an enigmatic geographer who researched and prepared meticulous reports on criminal trafficking of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. “How does he do it?” was the most common reaction to most of those reports. It was a question no one could answer.

He would select a stunning necktie and matching handkerchief, stuff a sheaf of papers into a briefcase, and hop on a plane flying off to some remote (and often dangerous) neighborhood. His penchant for impeccable attire and his carefully coiffed shock of alabaster white hair certainly made him the most conspicuous foreigner in any of those distant urban centers. Hardly the image of the traditional sleuth! He’d poke around among the sleazy ivory shops, strike up acquaintances with rhinoceros horn dealers, rub shoulders with potentially violent criminals, and then fly home to Lang’ata, a leafy suburb just west of Nairobi, Kenya, and compose another breathtaking report.

He’d document everything: wholesale prices, retail prices, volumes of contraband, descriptions of markets, skill levels of carvers, weekly inventory turnover, names, numbers, locations—the works. He did it again and again, for decades, often mystifying some of the world’s most notable investigatory agencies.

I know he mystified those agencies because I worked with Interpol for 23 years, much of the time planning and coordinating law enforcement operations that targeted criminals who were dealing in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Before most operations, I’d contact Esmond and simply ask what information he might have on the dealers and markets in particular countries where operations were being planned. He’d usually provide some leads and these would be passed to national law enforcement agencies for surveillance and verification prior to the operation. Esmond’s tips were precise, timely, and absolutely reliable.

We had a working relationship that spanned almost 40 years, often sitting at the same table in some CITES committee or working group, sometimes chatting for a while in a conference hall. Many commonalities helped us to gravitate toward each other: both born in New York City seventy-some years ago, both increasingly aware there were fewer and fewer “old timers” in our midst, both obsessed with efforts to suppress trafficking in ivory and rhinoceros horn, both worried about the infirmities of creeping age, both afraid of retiring from the work we loved.

Esmond never retired. He was profoundly engaged in his vocation until the day he died. The assailant struck on February 4 shortly after Esmond had returned home from another mission to Myanmar. Esmond’s wife, Chrysee, discovered his body in their home that afternoon. Police say he had been stabbed in the throat during a botched robbery.

Esmond Bradley Martin was not the first motivated activist who suffered a violent death. Quarterly readers will remember the loss of Wayne Lotter, Emily Kisamo, and others. Although arrests have been made in connection with the Kisamo, Lotter, and Martin murders, Global Witness reports that 197 environmentalists died violently in 2017, and few of the culprits have been apprehended.

Read more articles about: