A well-known environmental activist was shot dead near her home in Kenya after receiving multiple death threats following her campaign against the development of wetlands in a national park.
Joannah Stutchbury, 67, was killed Thursday at 10 p.m. local time when she returned to her home on the outskirts of Nairobi. Friends said she stopped her car to remove branches blocking her driveway when she was shot multiple times. Neighbors found her body in the car with the engine running and valuables in the vehicle, suggesting the attack was not a robbery.
Stutchbury had spoken out loudly against attempts by powerful local businessmen to build in the nearby Kiambu Forest and had received death threats in the past.
“It’s really awful. The Conservation Society is very shaken. It’s devastating, “said Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta condemned the killing. “Joannah has long been a steadfast advocate for the preservation of our environment and is remembered for her tireless efforts to protect the Kiambu Forest from encroachment,” he said.
Although Kenya’s natural heritage is a major source of income for tourists, it is threatened by assaults, squatters and property developers, often with ties to powerful local politicians.
The Kiambu Forest is on the edge of Nairobi, where land prices have skyrocketed in recent years. “Joannah was a great help for [the Kenya Forest Service] and was a great voice against the destruction of the Kiambu forest. We need an in-depth investigation by the police to find out what happened and what the motive was. People shouldn’t forget what happened, ”an official from the service told the local star newspaper.
The Stutchbury assassination is just one of several violent deaths by conservationists in recent years. In 2018, Esmond Bradley Martin, a Kenya-based American conservationist whose research into the elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trade was viewed as critical to protecting the endangered species was stabbed to death at his Nairobi home. His murder remains unsolved.
“A lot of bad things happen to the environment in Kenya. People are very scared, even of officials. The fear is great, but nobody would have thought that someone would kill someone like Joanna, an old lady. That was deeply cowardly, ”said Kahumbu.
The Conservation Alliance of Kenya, a coalition of NGOs, said the Kiambu forest was “invaded by land diggers for housing developments,” and said Stutchbury recently reported a threat from a developer.
The Kenyan branch of Amnesty International condemned the Stutchbury murder and called for an early investigation. “Joannah was known for her actions in the… Kiambu district. She never turned a blind eye when she saw any illegality in the forest. We condemn this senseless killing and call for justice for Joannah and all the other environmental and human rights activists who have unfortunately lost their lives while defending the integrity of our environment and natural heritage, ”it said.