I believe that we as the young generation should come together and take charge of wildlife and wildlands before it’s too late. We are not waiting for older generations to hand it down to us – we will take it, because the time is now. I cannot tell my kids that I’m the reason elephants are extinct. We must all come together to protect our heritage. Animals are Africans too, and we should use our voices to speak up for them.”
Tiassa Mutunkei ’18 is a Kenyan conservation activist, and founder of Teens4Wildlife, an advocacy and mentorship platform campaigning against poaching and illegal wildlife trade, and educating young people about environmental protection. Since launching her campaign as a 15-year old student, Tiassa, also known as the Wildlife Warrior, has made it her life’s mission to be a part of the generation that prevents our animals from going into extinction.
Tiassa grew up in a middle-class family in Nairobi, Kenya. Coming from the Maasai and Kikuyu tribes of Kenya, she believes that it is in her blood to be connected to animals. She fondly recalls her grandmother’s numerous nighttime stories, all of which revolved around animals. Receiving a bird for a birthday present at the age of seven, and a chameleon at the age of nine served to reinforce her deep connection to animals.
In school, she quickly earned the nickname “Animal Girl”, but when she discovered the troubling statistic that approximately 96 elephants are killed in Africa every day, she decided that she would make it her life’s mission to protect these species. Through fundraisers at school and campaign marches in support of elephants, she came to be known as “The Elephant Girl” and “Wildlife Warrior”, creating the Teens4Wildlife movement in the process.
Tiassa initially started a wildlife club at her school to create awareness about the poaching of elephants for ivory. Through this club, Tiassa held her first fundraiser to adopt 15 elephants. Many of her peers at school thought this meant they would be housing elephants in their backyards. This lack of knowledge around elephants and their needs inspired Tiassa to find a way to create more awareness in her own community. At the age of 15, she founded Teens4Wildlife to create a space for Kenyan and other African youth to discover the value of wildlife, and to take action to protect animals. She felt that it was vital to create a space where Kenyans could learn about animal conservation and the fight against poaching and illegal trade of wildlife.
The Voice of Youth in Conservation
Tiassa realized at a young age that many young people do not know about the rate of wildlife extinction on the African continent due to poaching and illegal trade. After attending several functions in the circle of conservation, she realized that it was the same individuals who were in the room discussing these pressing issues. She feels that it was vital to include young people in these conversations to mobilize and galvanize their communities. She is convinced that her generation cannot allow wildlife to become extinct, but that they will be the ones to save it. She believes that young people can be conservation champions if engaged appropriately through the use of technology, interactive activities, and targeted campaigns to focus on specific wildlife species. Through Teens4Wildlife she has been able to encourage numerous young Africans to join in conversations around conservation and create awareness about wildlife.
Expanding the Conservation Movement
Inspired by discussions around conservation through Teens4Wildlife, Tiassa has seen firsthand the impact that she has had on other young Kenyans. A few years ago she took a group of ten-year-old girls to a National Park in Kenya. This trip enabled these young girls to have exposure to the animals that they might have never encountered otherwise. During this trip, the young girls witnessed an ivory burning spectacle – a statement made by the Kenyan government demonstrating to the outside world that they would not give into the foreign demand for ivory. This group of 15 young girls were completely changed by this experience and went on to establish their own club, naming themselves The Wildlife Savers.
When she discovered African Leadership Academy through a friend, Tiassa knew that it was the right next step for her to develop the necessary skill-set to continue on her journey as a leader in conservation. Through ALA, she was invited to speak at the Business of Conservation conference hosted by the African Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda in November 2018, addressing a wide audience of academics, activists, private sector players and government representatives. Shortly after, she was again on stage at the Nature Environment Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF) Congress, advocating for the creation of youth wildlife movements in schools and universities.
Vision for the Future
Looking ahead, Tiassa sees herself leading a conservation organization interacting, inspiring and empowering young people to continue the fight for wildlife conservation. Her goal is to empower African youth to use and raise their voices for wildlife. In her words: “I believe that we as the young generation should come together and take charge of wildlife and wildlands before it’s too late. We are not waiting for older generations to hand it down to us – we will take it, because the time is now. I cannot tell my kids that I’m the reason elephants are extinct. We must all come together to protect our heritage. Animals are Africans too, and we should use our voices to speak up for them.”