Dr. Paula Kahumbu: Career Journey Of The First Kenyan To Join The NATGEO Board

Dr. Paula Kahumbu: Career Journey Of The First Kenyan To Join The NATGEO Board
Dr. Paula Kahumbu Photocredit/Courtesy

Wildlife conservation in Kenya is synonymous with Dr. Paula Kahumbu. She is well known for her campaign and efforts to protect elephants. She serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Wildlife Direct and was recently appointed to join the National Geographic (NATGEO) trustee’s board, making her the first Kenyan to hold such a position.

Here is her story as told by WoK.


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Dr. Paula Kahumbu was born on 25th June 1966 in the suburbs of Nairobi, Kenya. She acquired her primary and secondary school education from Loreto Convent Msongari where she was mentored by renowned conservationist Richard Leakey. She received a scholarship from the government of Kenya to study Ecology and Biology at the University of Bristol. She went on to join the University of Florida where she acquired a Masters Degree in Wildlife and Range Science in 1992. In 1994 she received a Petri scholarship to complete her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. In 2005 she received a Certificate in Management Development through the Gordon Institute of Business Sciences at University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Career Journey

After completing her PhD in 2002, she joined the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and led the Kenyan delegation to the International Convention of Endangered Species. In 2004 she was appointed as the Executive Director and CEO of Wildlife Direct, an organization co-founded by her mentor Richard Leakey. In 2014, she pioneered the ‘Hands off Our Elephants’ campaign to put an end to the increase of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. The campaign has since received significant support from the first lady Margaret Kenyatta.


In January 2022, she was appointed to join the board of trustees of the National Geographic Society becoming the first Kenyan to sit on the board. She is also a trustee of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Maun Science Park Botswana. She currently lectures conservation students at Princeton University where she leads an undergraduate course in community conservation. She is also in the media space serving as the producer of NTV Wild, NTV Wild Talk and as a contributor to the Guardian magazine. She has co-authored three children’ books and serves as the Chairperson for National Museums of Kenya.

Awards and Recognitions

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Her conservation activities has led her to receive various awards and recognitions including the National Geographic Emerging Explorer and National Geographic Buffet Award for Conservation leadership in Africa in 2011. She would then receive a Special Commendation, United Nations Person of the Year Award in 2013. In 2014 she won the Whitley award and received the Order of the Grand Warrior Award issued by the Kenyan Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. In June 2021, she was named as the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

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