John Frederick Walker

Kenya’s White Giraffes

Posted in conservation news, Uncategorized by JFW on October 9, 2019

White giraffes?  The first one known was spotted in Tanzania in 2016.  Now there are three in Kenya’s Ishaqbini Conservancy.  These aren’t albino animals—their coloring is due to a partial loss of pigmentation caused by leucism.  They are otherwise healthy, and are being closely monitored. You can read more about them here.

Ishaqbini is a remarkable community-run sanctuary which I had the privilege of visiting in 2011 to see another rare animal, the hirola, a highly endangered antelope species now being protected on pasture land set aside to conserve them.  You can read my article on them here.

Northern White Rhino Eggs Successfully Fertilized

Posted in conservation news, rhino news, Uncategorized by JFW on August 27, 2019

In breakthrough conservation news, Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya announced on August 23 that 7 out of 10 eggs harvested from the last two existing Northern White rhinos were successfully fertilized with previously frozen sperm from two Northern White rhinos.  (The last male of the species, Sudan, pictured here, died last year at the sanctuary.)  The hope is that viable embryos can be implanted into Southern White Rhino surrogate mothers, and that the Northern White rhino will not go extinct. Fingers crossed….

JFW review of The Ivory Trade of Laos: Now the Fastest Growing in the World

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on September 25, 2018

My review of Esmond Bradley Martin and Lucy Vigne’s latest ivory trade report appears in the issue 59 of Pachyderm.  I write that it makes for grim but “required reading for anyone trying to keep up with how the international ivory trade continues to fuel crisis-level elephant poaching.”  The review can accessed here.



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JFW review of Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on October 1, 2017


My review of Keith Somerville’s important new book Ivory appears in the current issue of Pachyderm.  Somerville, a veteran of numerous assignments in Africa during his career with the BBC, brings his journalistic skills to this grim, detailed chronicle of the exploitation of elephants and disempowered Africans. Click here for the complete review. 




JFW interviewed on CGTNAmerica

Posted in art news, conservation news, elephant and ivory news by JFW on August 15, 2017
“CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to John Frederick Walker about the state of elephant populations and conservation measures. Walker is the author of “Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants.””
Here’s the YouTube link:

The Dark Side of Ivory Prohibition: Will it help elephants or just vandalize culture?

Posted in art news, conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on August 4, 2017
In a just-published essay in The Smart Set, I look at how recent anti-ivory attitudes threaten to become counter-productive to anti-poaching efforts.  It’s a controversial subject, but shouldn’t be ignored.

With 25,000 African elephants being slain every year for their tusks, maybe it was inevitable that elephant advocates would grow impatient with critically important but slow-paced efforts to help rural communities co-exist with Africa’s herds, root out endemic corruption in range states, and expose international wildlife trafficking rings.

Now, nearly three decades after the ban, with no end to elephant poaching in sight, their attitudes have gone strident, spiraling into emotion-driven campaigns and unhinged extremism that threatens to turn the war on poaching into an incoherent war on ivory….


Read the entire article at

Sudan: “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World”

Posted in conservation news, rhino news by JFW on April 25, 2017

I took this photo of Sudan, the last remaining male northern white rhino in existence, several years ago at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya.  He’s under 24/7 armed guard to protect him from poachers, and his horns have been shortened as an added precaution.  Sudan is getting on in years—he’s 43—and alas, shows little interest in the remaining pair of female northern white rhinos that share his corner of the wildlife sanctuary.

To keep this remarkable subspecies from going extinct, Ol Pejeta is raising funds to aid the development of in vitro fertilization technology that might work with females from the more numerous southern white rhino population.

It’s a race against time, and Tinder, the popular social app for meeting new people, has partnered with Ol Pejeta to introduce Sudan and the plight of the northern white rhino.

Sudan has quite a profile:  “I’m one of a kind….6ft tall and 5,000 lbs, if it matters.”  Swipe right, and Tinder users in 140 countries will be directed to a page from which they can donate.  Sounds like a great match.


JFW on mammoth ivory

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on March 28, 2017

In a fascinating BBC News piece on How an obscure seed is helping to save the elephant, business reporter Kait Bolongaro explains how tagua seed from ivory-nut palms (known as “vegetable ivory”) and tusks from long-extinct mammoths are finding ready markets as substitutes for elephant ivory.  I’m quoted on ethically-sourced mammoth ivory  from the Siberian tundra, which varies from hard, almost petrified examples, to remarkably well-preserved tusks.

“John Frederick Walker, an expert on ivory, says: ‘Master carvers tend to prefer elephant ivory because fresh elephant ivory is easier to carve. But in fact, you can make wonderful things from mammoth ivory.’ ”

Both tagua and mammoth ivory are examples of natural, organic materials   that share much of the tactile attraction of elephant ivory, but unlike tusks from poached elephants, can be sourced guilt-free: the first is a palm-tree seed, the second from a long-expired ancestor of today’s elephant.


JFW on Ivory Trade

Posted in conservation news, ivory news by JFW on January 5, 2017



Wéi kann der illegaler Juegd op Elefanten an Nashörner en Enn gesat ginn?


I was recently interviewed on Radio Luxembourg by Mohamed Hamdi for an episode centered on the ivory trade. The entire program is here, presented in Luxembourgish.  My responses included the following:

“I’m basically against the trade of animal products from threatened and endangered species, but with some exceptions. It’s important to distinguish between wildlife products that require the death of the animal and those that don’t.  And you don’t have to kill elephants to get their tusks. Eventually, like all creatures, they die and leave behind their tusks. Something like 15 to 20 tons a year of this natural mortality ivory is recovered in the bush and warehoused in African national park systems. As long as there are these animals, there’s going to be ivory. The argument for allowing a highly regulated and transparent trade in legal ivory is that it creates a socially acceptable outlet for legitimate interest and no-harm-to-elephants ivory. All other ivory commerce by contrast would be unacceptable, illicit, criminal, rightly condemned on the grounds that it threatens elephants. I think that the very existence of historic carvings and legal ivory of this nature means that  a complete prohibition of ivory commerce is never going to be universally accepted. Total prohibition is just going to drive demand under ground where it can only be supplied by organized crime….”

Giant Sable Shepherd given prestigious Tusk Ranger Award

Posted in conservation news, giant sable news by JFW on December 5, 2016




Last week, Pedro Vaz Pinto, the Angolan biologist behind giant sable conservation in Angola, brought Manuel Sacaia to London to receive the Tusk Ranger Award at an event presided over by the Duke of Cambridge and David Attenborough. Sacaia, the elder member of a team of “sable shepherds” who now guard the country’s endangered antelope, has been shot at by poachers and had his leg caught in a mantrap, but continues his work undeterred. He was born on the border of the Luando Reserve, the historic habitat of the animal, and has spent decades looking after the palanca negra gigante. This short YouTube video captures his modesty and his passion for conservation.

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