She was born and raised in Nairobi and is the executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and WildlifeDirect and chairman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park. She is best known for her passionate and forceful speeches at two CITES conferences where she headed the Kenyan delegation.
Kahumbu’s introduction to conservation was to measure Kenya’s entire stockpile of ivory in the 1980s. That work literally went up in smoke in the spectacular ivory bonfire of 1989 — a powerful international statement that the country would not tolerate the effects of the international trade in ivory on Kenya’s elephant herds. A decade later, Kahumbu joined the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and became one of the most vocal advocates against the increasing calls for renewed international trade in ivory.
Kahumbu started the Colobus Trust and introduced colobus bridges or “colobridges” across the busy Diani highway — an innovation that has become a tourist attraction and has been expanded and been exported to other countries where primates and other arboreal animals need to cross roads. She ran the Colobus Trust while conducting her Ph.D. research on elephants in the Shimba Hills at the Kenya coast, all while singlehandedly raising her curious and adventurous son, Joshua. The Trust still saves monkeys, and Josh is all grown up and working for the U.S. Navy.
After attaining her doctorate from Princeton University, Kahumbu returned to KWS briefly before joining Bamburi Cement. There she launched the environmental subsidiary Lafarge Eco Systems and published a world-best-selling children’s book about a baby hippopotamus that was adopted by a giant tortoise after he was orphaned by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The true story was so compelling that over 1 million copies of “Owen and Mzee” (Scholastic Press) have been sold and the book is now in 27 languages including Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Czech, Chinese and Kiswahili (translated and locally published by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation Press). The Kenya Postal Corporation produced a commemorative stamp in a series about unusual animal relationships.