About Paula Kahumbu

Paula with bull elephant

Multi Award Winning Conservationist

Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of Kenyan Conservation NGO WildlifeDirect and since 2014 has spearheaded the hard hitting Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign. Hands Off Our Elephants is a campaign to restore Kenyan leadership in elephant conservation through behaviour change at all levels of society, from rural communities, to business leaders and political decision makers.
She is an award winning Kenyan conservationist with a PhD from Princeton University where she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and conducted her field research on elephants in Kenya.

Academic Achievements

Paula completed her primary and secondary schooling at Loreto Convent Msongari in Nairobi, Kenya, and in 1995 she was  granted a Government of Kenya Scholarship to read Ecology and Biology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. She later studied for her Masters at The University of Florida in Gainsville and then was awarded a Petri scholarship to study for her PhD at Princeton University in the USA.

Later in 2005, Paula completed the Program for Management Development at the Gordon Institute of Business Science University in Pretoria, South Africa.

2005 – Program For Management Development


1994-2002 – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


1990-92 Wildlife and Range Science


Career Achievements

Paula’s career in wildlife and conservation spans 24 years and during this time she has worked for both Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations, private industry, set up a conservation Trust, is a Trustee of numerous Trusts and currently sits on the board of  Lewa Conservancy.

She is currently Chief Executive Officer of WildlifeDirect and leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, is the Producer of the award winning NTV Wild and NTV Wild Talk TV Series, Chairperson for National Museums of Kenya and a Princeton University Lecturer in Undergraduate Ecology.

Her career started in 1992 when she was Co-ordinator of the Tana Primate project, a World Bank funded GEF project. She was later the Assistant Coordinator of the KWS Elephant Program. Between 1996 and 2001 while carrying out her PhD fieldwork, she founded the Wakuluzu Friends of the Colobus Trust in Diani, Kenya. And during the same period, she was also Scientific Advisor and Acting Deputy Director for Scientific Services for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Later in 2000-2003 Paula was the CITES Coordinator for Kenya Wildlife Service and Deputy Director for Parks and Protected Areas.

Between 2004-2007 Paula worked for the Multi National company Lafarge East Africa as the General Manager of Lafarge Ecosystems at Haller Park in Mombasa Kenya.

More recently Paula was the Executive Director of the Kenya Land Conservation Turst (2010-2012), member of the National Task Force on the Impact of Pesticides in the Environment, Kenya Ministry of Agriculture (2010-2014).

Wildlifedirect log







Honours and Awards

Paula has received a number of awards for her conservation work. In 1998 she was a runner up in the annual Whitley Awards and in 2001 she won the Whitley/Rufford dissertation award. She was then invited to speak at the annual Whitley Laing fundraising dinner in 2003, then to compere the Whitley Awards in 2004 and she won the prestigeous Whitley Award in 2014.

Also in 2014, Paula was awarded the Presidential Award, Order Of The Grand Warrior by Prof Judi Wakhungu. You can view the presentation or the award to her here on the Media page.

Paula has also been listed as a Kenyan Woman of Distinction (2011), United Nation Person Of the Year Special Commendation as well as runner up Person Of The Year (2013),  winner of Woman In Tourism Kenya (2013), named Kenyan Brand Ambassador by Brand Kenya the Marketing Society of Kenya (2013).

In 2011 Paula was awarded the National Geographic Emerging Explorer and won the Warren Buffet Award for Conservation and Leadership in Africa, at the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington DC. Emerging Explorers are people early in their careers that are pushing the boundaries of science, exploration and knowledge and making a difference to humanity.

Whitley Awards





National Geographic Logo




Paula writes extensively on wide range of wildlife conservation and human wildlife conflict issues. In 2006 she authored the world best selling children’s book Owen and Mzee, the story of a baby hippo rescued from the sea after the 2004 Tsunami struck the Kenya coast. It was rescued to Haller Park where it formed a beautiful and unexpected friendship with a 130 year Aldabra giant tortoise. Paula also helped produce the Owen and Mzee Documentary which can be seen here in her Media archives.

In 2008 Paula also co-wrote the children’s book Looking for Miza, the story of a young orphaned gorilla adopted by a Silverback.

Paula writes regularly for National Geographic and is the Guardian Environment Blogger for Africa. You can follow her on these platforms using the links below as well as the Hands Off Our Elephants Facebook Page.

The Guardian


National Geographic Logo

National Geographic Voices

Hands Off Our Elephants

Hands Off Our Elephants