Mwachofi Ngonyo, among the last of the Tsavo Watha
“The curtain has fallen for a great man in conservation!” emailed Africa Network for Animal Welfare founder Josphat Ngonyo on September 5, 2021.
“Please join me,” Josphat Ngonyo asked, “in celebrating the life of my uncle and father figure Mwachofi Ngonyo. “He was among the last of the Watha people who lived in Tsavo East National Park,” in southeastern Kenya, “before it was gazetted in 1948.”
Film maker, conservationist, and former Kenya Wildlife Service warden Gareth Roriston, in a profile of the Watha published by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, recalls that the Watha were not a recognized tribal community under the British colonial government that ruled Kenya from 1885 to 1963, and therefore received no concessions or considerations when Tsavo East National Park was designated on their homeland.
“Their entire way of life was outlawed”
“From the Watha perspective,” Roriston wrote, “their entire way of life was outlawed. They were eventually all informed about the government policy that there would no longer be any hunting permitted on their ancestral hunting grounds, but knowing no other livelihood and with the site of each kill now effectively being a crime scene, commercial ivory hunting yielded a safer and more rewarding option than camping by the carcass and utilizing every morsel, as had been the practice of the past. This led to the entire community being complicit with the illegal ivory trade,” for more than 30 years.
Tsavo National Park founding warden David Sheldrick and his much younger wife Daphne, however, befriended “a small number of Watha” living within Tsavo near the Voi river and the railway bridge built in 1899 after Colonel John H. Patterson shot the two maneless lions The Ghost and The Darkness, who had killed and eaten as many as 135 construction crew members.
Helped the Sheldricks
“This offshoot of the tribe had mixed with the local Taita people,” Roriston said, “and, as Dame Daphne Sheldrick writes in The Tsavo Story, they were ‘rather frowned on by the others due to their contacts with civilization and their liking for the bright lights of Voi.’
“On many evenings, the Watha men would wander into David’s camp and together they spent many a night around a fire, learning from one another. It was through these early exchanges that David and [assistant deputy warden] Bill Woodley were able to shed light on ivory trade. Showing little loyalty to the middlemen and the Arab traders on the coast who eventually sold the ivory on to markets in Asia, the hunters divulged a wealth of information, particularly about the mechanics of the ivory trade.
“The Watha proved invaluable resources in many facets of the Park’s development and later management,” Roriston continued. “They helped navigate the well-worn elephant paths that formed a mosaic, connecting seasonal waterholes, springs and rivers across an inhospitable landscape, and even formed part of the crew that would eventually transform these elephant paths into serviceable roads. Being excellent trackers, they also proved themselves among the ranger force, despite being reluctant to turn on and arrest their own.
“Risked life in combat with ‘shiftas'”
“Unfortunately,” Roriston finished, “the Watha never fully came to terms with a new identity that didn’t revolve around hunting. At one time, Bill believed that he had arrested every single male of the Watha community on at least one occasion.”
But Mwachofi Ngonyo joined the Sheldricks and Woodley in protecting wildlife. Employed “as a ranger driver in Tsavo East National Park,” Josphat Ngonyo wroter, Mwachofi Ngonyo “risked his life in combat with ‘shiftas,’” as poachers and bandits are known in East Africa, from Ethiopia and South Sudan to Tanzania.
Josphat Ngonyo recalled Mwachofi Ngonyo as “a God fearing man who selflessly opened his home and took me in when I needed the most to rejoin school and study, which became the most significant stepping stone for my entire life. Better still,” Josphat Ngonyo continued, “he inspired me into my animal welfare and conservation career.”
Amanda from Denver
A visitor to Kenya who identified herself only as Amanda from Denver on December 7, 2011 posted to the CSW: Experiential Learning in Kenya web site a recollection of visiting Mwachofi Ngonyo with Josphat Ngonyo and three other students.
“Eight of us sat around the table in his living room with only light from a kerosene lamp,” Amanda from Denver wrote. “The shadows danced around us as Mwachofi Ngonyo shared his history with the Waatha community and his story of becoming a ranger for the Kenya Wildlife Service. Mwachofi guessed that he worked for the Kenya Wildlife Service for about 30 years, some of those years directly surrounding the ivory wars.
“That’s how we know we’ve done our job”
“As he shared his love of animals with us, especially his love for elephants, we all saw in his words and eyes his true compassion for the welfare of animals.”
Said Mwachofi Ngonyo, “I always used to tell my family around the dinner table about the importance of not eating animals. We live among the animals, and we need them around us. That is what I told my children.”
Added Amanda from Denver, “Mwachofi also shared a brief history of the Watha tribe. The Watha, who used to be hunters, are now an anti-poaching community and have come together as a community with a negative attitude towards snares and other poaching techniques. Right as we were getting ready to leave after the hour long interview, Mwachofi shared with us something that continues to make him happy: seeing the looks on tourists faces as they witness the wildlife of Tsavo.
“That’s how we know we’ve done our job,” Mwachofi Ngonyo finished,
Patricia Maginnis, 93, described by The New York Times obituarist Katherine Q. Seelye as “one of the nation’s earliest and fiercest proponents of a woman’s right to safe, legal abortions,” died on August 30, 2021 in Oakland, California from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” her niece Semberlyn Crossley announced.
But Action for Animals coordinator Eric Mills, also of Oakland, remembered Maginnis for an entirely different reason.
“Pat Maginnis,” Mills told the Action for Animals email list, “was a major advocate for animal welfare issues here in the San Francisco Bay area throughout the later years of her life. Pat was a true force of nature, and will be sorely missed––a good’un, both as activist and friend.”
Lee Anne Nesler
Lee Anne Nesler, 59, executive director of the Lake Humane Society in Mentor, Ohio, “died suddenly on July 17, 2021 while doing what she loved most, riding her horse,” according to a DeJohn Funeral Homes announcement.
Nesler during her six years at the Lake Humane Society started a low cost wellness clinic, a pet food pantry, a trap/neuter/return program for feral cats, and a pets-to-vets program, a joint statement from the Lake Humane Society board of directors recalled.
Nesler was also an Ohio Animal Welfare Federation board member.
Born and raised in Elgin, Illinois, Nesler earned a degree in animal science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, interned at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and began her professional career at the River Banks Zoo & Gardens in Columbia, South Carolina.
Moving to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, Nesler became general curator, before taking her first position as an executive director with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in 2004.
A stint as executive director of the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, Florida followed.
Remembered Cleveland Animal Protective League president Sharon Harvey, “She was a mentor, leader, and passionate advocate for animals, and a wonderful friend. She had a huge heart, endless generosity, and commitment and spirit that didn’t stop. I’m really going to miss her big laugh.”
Shauna Waite, DVM
Veterinarian Shauna Waite, employed at the Columbia Pike Animal Hospital in Annandale, Virginia, was killed in the July 16, 2021 crash of a Beechcraft 35 Bonanza single-engine aircraft near the Angwin Airport in the Napa Valley of California, dying with her husband, James Waite, and her father, Robert Nicholas.
One-year-old Kieren Waite, son of Shauna and James Waite, was safe with Shauna’s mother on the ground.
Shauna Waite had previously worked with the Humane Rescue Alliance in Asheville, Virginia, and had assisted African wildlife projects.
Michael Edward O’Sullivan died from a heart attack on February 10, 2021 after a year-long struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, leaving his wife Lise, children Pierce and Elan O’Sullivan, and adopted son Corey McMahon.
O’Sullivan, a longtime close associate of former Michigan Humane Society executive director and Humane Society of the U.S. vice president for investigations David Wills, debuted in humane work as Canadian representative for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, now called World Animal Protection.
Through Wills, O’Sullivan was hired as executive director when then-Humane Society of the U.S. president John Hoyt and senior vice president Paul Irwin incorporated the subsidiary Humane Society of Canada.
The third member of the Humane Society of Canada board was longtime World Society for the Protection of Animals board member and Montreal politician Dominique Bellemare.
Hoyt, Irwin, and Bellemare all had questionable histories in humane work, Hoyt and Irwin in connection with alleged excessive compensation, Bellemare because of political links to the Canadian fur trade.
Canadian law requires that registered charities be controlled by Canadian citizens. Irwin, though born in Canada, had become a U.S. citizen.
O’Sullivan got the money
Pointing that out, O’Sullivan won control of the Humane Society of Canada in a 1996 lawsuit which also sought to recover just over $1 million which had been transferred from the Humane Society of Canada and Humane Society International accounts to the Humane Society of the U.S. earlier in the year.
Ontario Court of Justice judge Bruce C. Hawkins in January 1997 ordered the Humane Society of the U.S. to repay $740,000 to the Humane Society of Canada.
Under O’Sullivan, the Humane Society of Canada, formally called the Humane Society of Canada for the Protection of Animals & the Environment, established a constellation of subsidiaries, including also the Humane Society of Canada Foundation, the Ark Angel Foundation, and the Ark Angel Fund.
Audited in 2006 by the Canadian Revenue Agency, the organizations were found to have “raked in more than $800,000 in donations,” just that year, reported Dale Brazao and Mary Ormsby of the Toronto Star on March 16, 2016.
Over 15 years, “The four charities under O’Sullivan’s direct control collected about $9 million in donations,” Brazao and Ormsby found.
But those four charities did very little of a demonstrable nature to help animals.
“Among the expenses flagged by the auditors examining the charity’s 2006 income tax return,” summarized Brazao and Ormsby, “were: $27,000 in superhero-themed comic book purchases; $22,000 in meals eaten mainly in Toronto; a $4,000 O’Sullivan family trip to Disneyland in California; $1,800 in alcohol, and a $67 charge at LaSenza Girl lingerie store.”
The Canadian Revenue Agency on November 17, 2014 revoked the Humane Society of Canada’s charitable registration. The decision was upheld on August 19, 2015 by the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal. Charitable status was finally formally revoked on March 16, 2016, but the organization continued to solicit funds on Facebook until December 2020.
The Humane Society of the U.S., meanwhile, in 2009 formed a new Canadian subsidiary, called Humane Society International Canada.