Rafiki Emily Stephen Kisamo (1964-2015)

By Bill Clark

We called each other rafiki, the Swahili word for friend. And we were friends, good friends.

Rafiki Emily Stephen Kisamo has been laid to rest in the cemetery at his home village of Marangu, on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. (News story: Murdered Parks Official Remembered For Anti-Poaching Efforts)

We had personal traditions that good friends tend to share, such as exchanging the gaudiest ties we could find as holiday gifts.

We quoted Euripides that “one true friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” And then we’d check behind the nearest doors, just to make certain no relatives were eavesdropping.

I mourn Rafiki Kisamo.

He devoted his life—and perhaps gave his life—to protect wild animals from criminal killers.

Besides being friends, we were also colleagues. We had partnered many times in efforts to suppress the illegal exploitation of Africa’s magnificent wildlife. Operation Baba, Operation Ahmed, Operation Costa—hundreds of low-life traffickers, mean-spirited dealers, sleazy poachers and trappers—we’d target as many as we could. Many of them are in prison right now.

When he died, Rafiki Kisamo was head of anti-poaching at Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). He had been fighting a desperate battle against the criminal syndicates that have shattered Tanzania’s elephant populations.

In 2009, the country counted 109,051 elephants. By 2014, ivory poachers had slaughtered most, leaving a remnant of only 43,330 to be counted.

Rafiki Kisamo was a kindly man, gentlemanly. He was sitting at his kitchen table eating an oatmeal breakfast on the morning of December 18, 2015. He was in one of those homes that TANAPA provides its senior officers. The police say the gardener approached him and, without warning, swung a machete that caught Rafiki Kisamo on the throat. His body was tossed in the trunk of his car, which was driven out of the neighborhood and rolled into a ditch.

The police report says the gardener admitted to committing the murder so he could steal money. But I am uneasy with that confession.

Editor’s note: A version of this tribute will also be published in Winter 2016 issue of AWI Quarterly, the magazine of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Bill Clark is an Honorary Warden and U.S. Liaison for the Kenya Wildlife Service and an adviser to the Animal Welfare Institute. He is retired from INTERPOL, where he served as chairman of the Wildlife Crime Group and other positions within the Environmental Security Sub-directorate. He is also retired from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, where he served as a wildlife law enforcement officer and CITES delegate.

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