Jean Gilchrist

Jean Gilchrist

“We’re still just scratching the surface.”

Jean Gilchrist with rescued donkeys. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project

A life spent dedicated to animals yields a lot of lessons. The first that comes to mind for Jean Gilchrist is that you have to take the bad with the good.


Among the bad: The horrific slaughter methods that she has been documenting in Kenya for decades in an effort to change them. Studying a recent photo of roped camels about to be killed, she notes, “Some of them are crying.”

Next: The public’s indifference. “In a developing country where there are an awful lot of human problems, people are apt to think that animals and their welfare aren’t important.”

And then there is her organization’s bank account balance – a drop in a sea of need. “It’s very hand to mouth, this place,” Gilchrist says of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals in Nairobi, where she began as a volunteer in the late 1970s.

But there is also so much good, like the transformations she’s seen among the KSPCA’s rescues, several of whom are asleep in her office. “These are my dogs,” she says as she goes around the room introducing them. Charlie, who is curled up under a desk, was found on the side of the road. He had been adopted but the family brought him back, terrified and shaking. Gilchrist had just lost a similar looking companion whom she’d loved dearly.

“I took it as a sort of omen,” she says, so she kept him. “It only took him a few days to feel he was OK, but he’s still a nervous dog.”

A native of Scotland, Gilchrist has spent the past four-plus decades in Africa. With cropped grey hair and wire-framed glasses, she is humble, unassuming, friendly and soft-spoken – at least until her cause is better served by raising her voice.

When the topic is the treatment of animals, Gilchrist admits that her normally quiet demeanour is quickly forgotten.

“I do get attention,” she says.

Her title at the KSPCA is director of animal welfare, but in practice she does a bit of everything, as does the organization. Most of its funding – all from donations – goes to its rescue and sheltering operation, which includes dogs, cats, donkeys, goats, and pigs, with an average of about 200 individuals in residence at any given time. Some come from abusive owners while others come off the streets. The KSPCA also runs spay/neuter campaigns, investigates and responds to cruelty and abandonment cases, and educates school children about animal welfare, along with its efforts in Kenyan slaughterhouses.

At the center of it all is Gilchrist, who embraces the moniker her work has earned her here: the madwoman of animals.

She says her interest in animal welfare has always been there, ingrained like an instinct. She recalls her first rescue, an injured mouse who she tried to save from a cat when she was a little girl. She took it home and nursed it, but it died the next day.

“I’ve always had this – taking in things that needed help.”

She first came to Africa with her husband, who was a surgeon and “bush doctor,” initially in Tanzania. Eventually they moved with their two young children to Kenya, where Gilchrist’s husband served as a flying doctor aboard air ambulances.

Gilchrist found her own place after a feral cat who’d been living on the roof of their rental house had kittens. Afraid the babies would fall, Gilchrist looked to the KSPCA, started around 1910 by women who gave water to oxen carrying goods into Nairobi.

The KSPCA loaned Gilchrist a trap so she could bring in the cat family. She soon started volunteering, and after about a decade, in 1986, when a field officer position opened, Gilchrist took it.

She quickly began going to slaughterhouses, using advocacy, training, and what she calls her Scottish temper to promote less horrific killing methods.

Despite her inclinations, it’s work she says she’d never imagined for herself, and 30 years later, she’s seen both exciting progress and heartbreaking regression.

Slaughterhouses are going up everywhere now and they’re not using humane killing. They’re bashing, stabbing, putting them down and cutting their throats. And it’s got to stop.

“It’s all dissolving,” Gilchrist laments. “Slaughterhouses are going up everywhere now and they’re not using humane killing. They’re bashing, stabbing, putting them down and cutting their throats. And it’s got to stop.”

She adds, “We’re still just scratching the surface.”

In addition to slaughterhouses, Gilchrist is a regular at animal-related conferences and workshops, always with her thermos of tea and often the only voice speaking for Kenya’s domestic animals, rather than wildlife, which receives far more attention.

Kate Chumo of Africa Network for Animal Welfare praises Gilchrist for the inroads she has made promoting adoption among Kenyans and changing people’s perceptions of dogs and cats. Chumo also notes that Gilchrist isn’t one to mince words.

“Kenyans are very practical people,” Gilchrist says. “It’s a matter of, ‘What can the animal do for me? And if it can’t and I have no use for it anymore, it’s not a big deal.’ So I have to keep saying, ‘We’ve got to consider the animals. They’re not just here for use and abuse.’ So I do get quite vocal.”

Rescued donkeys at the KSPCA

Sadly, it is often government veterinarians whom Gilchrist  finds herself reminding, prodding them to adhere to their Hippocratic Oath. Indeed, the KSPCA has been instrumental in progress against strychnine, a painful poison that the government’s veterinary department was using widely to control Kenya’s street dog population.

Gilchrist’s preferred tool for changing minds is the education of school children. The KSPCA both hosts groups and makes visits to schools, which Gilchrist believes is making slow but steady headway against the public indifference she spends so much time fighting.

In the meantime, there is the organization’s rescue work.

“So many animals need help,” Gilchrist says. “If you just concentrate on education, what happens to the 40 donkeys that were dumped in town?”

What gets her through? “Curry and beer,” she jokes.

The KSPCA is a “minimum-kill” operation, meaning it only euthanizes animals who are very old, very sick or whose “character has been too destroyed” by the trauma they’ve endured. The organization vets adopters and checks in on adoptees where it can.

And rather than small, individual cages, animals in its care are kept in groups, and are let out in rotation to romp and sniff during the day.

“We find they’re much happier running about and being free,” Gilchrist says. “The same with cats. People say cats can’t be together, but they can.”

As heartening as many of their rescues are, Gilchrist acknowledges that her life’s work is often wrenching.

“It’s not nice,” she says. What gets her through? “Curry and beer,” she jokes.

More seriously, she says photography and walks in the evenings with Charlie and her other dogs. And, of course, the progress she’s been a part of. During her time at the KSPCA, it has grown from three employees to today’s two dozen. “We have expanded a lot,” she says. “We’re doing a lot more work now.”

In recognition of her contributions, the queen of England in 2009 awarded Gilchrist an MBE, or Member of the British Empire.

“Completely out of my element,” she says of the Buckingham Palace ceremony.

That’s not to say that the award hasn’t been useful, especially with authorities. “When you’re writing letters to people and being official and you can write MBE, it does help.”

Jean Gilchrist with a rescued pig at the KSPCA

As for the KSPCA’s future, Gilchrist dreams of a fundraising committee that might generate reliable income for stronger education and investigative programs and some improvements at the shelter.

She also hopes to find someone to step into her shoes, as she knows she can’t work forever.

“We do our best with what we’ve got,” she says.

She also hopes to find someone to step into her shoes, as she knows she can’t work forever.

Although she’s never really wanted to leave Kenya, she sees Scotland as the prudent choice for retirement.

“I’ve still got enough energy, I think, to last another year.”

When Gilchrist does finally go, she knows this much: Her dogs will go with her.

“Everybody says I’m mad, but I can’t leave them behind,” she says.

“They’re family.”

Learn more about the KSPCA and support their work to protect animals.

Raabia Hawa

Raabia Hawa

From Runway to Ranger: Raabia Hawa’s Journey to Protect the Wildlife of Kenya

“You have to make every day in your life count. Otherwise, what are you living for?” –Raabia Hawa

Raabia Hawa has a message for young people, particularly those in her home country of Kenya. She urges them to feel a sense of responsibility for wildlife, and points out that these animals are, “Our heritage, our culture. If we lose these animals, we are pretty much signing our own death warrant.” There is no doubt that Raabia herself feels this sense of responsibility deeply as she works day in and day out fighting to save the wildlife of Kenya. Her entire life revolves around conservation and anti-poaching initiatives. Raabia is an Honorary Warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service and also the Executive Director of Ulinzi Africa Foundation, an organisation she launched in 2014 as East Africa’s first non-profit that focuses on game ranger welfare, empowerment and facilitation with an aim to foster better community stewardship of wildlife and enhance anti-poaching efforts.

Raabia’s career has taken a sharp turn—she originally was a fashion model and media personality, involved with several radio and television programs. While she has always had an interest in nature, it wasn’t until 2008 when she was volunteering with Care for the Wild Kenya, a conservation organization, that she really found her calling. Less than an hour in to her first shift with Care for the Wild Kenya, a radio call came in about an elephant who had been killed for her ivory tusks and the team set off.

This became a defining moment for Raabia, one that set her on her current path. She will never forget the “living nightmare” she encountered that day. “There was a lot of blood everywhere,” she recalls, “the elephant’s trunk was on one side and her body was on the other. They had even cut off her ear.” This sight had a profound and lasting impact on Raabia:

To see my heritage laying there in a pool of blood with her face hacked off for something that was couple of inches long – that was heartbreaking for me. She was freshly poached and there were sounds coming out of her body, gases being released, and that was just horrific.

Until that moment, Raabia didn’t understand the devastation caused by poaching. She knew there were many anti-poaching organizations working in the area and had assumed that the problem had been mostly contained. “I just couldn’t comprehend why this was still a thing,” she recalls.

“I didn’t think that poaching was still happening in Kenya… but I was standing looking at the carcass of a freshly poached elephant, questioning all these things. How could I have been so blind, so ignorant about what was happening in my own backyard? Here I was signing letters and petitions about wildlife in Canada and the U.S., telling them to stop clubbing the seals and here in my own backyard there are elephants being lost and nobody even knew about it.”

Raabia realized that after this encounter she “couldn’t just come back home and pretend like that didn’t happen or just get back to my regular life. Something had to change and I believe that you need to be the change you want to see in the world.” From this moment on, she began to dedicate her life to making a difference for Kenya’s wildlife

I started seeking out ways to get more involved in anti-poaching specifically. I really felt that is where I needed to be and that is where I could make a difference. I set off on this crazy journey to all these places in my country, meeting rangers and helping them and volunteering with organizations on anti-poaching and de-snaring patrols.

On these journeys, Raabia realized just how challenging it was for the rangers who were fighting poaching. The rangers often were ill-equipped and had little protection against the poachers, and yet they were still out on the front lines trying their best to protect animals. She was so frustrated to realize that in spite of the many anti-poaching and conservation organizations that existed, poaching remained rampant in Kenya. These discoveries had a weighty impact on her and she was appointed by the Ministry as an honorary warden with Kenya Wildlife Services after making an application in order to do her part to help out on the front lines.

Because of what she witnessed while on patrol Raabia felt it was important to both offer support to the rangers as well as educate the public about the work that the rangers did. Through her Ulinzi Africa Foundation Raabia founded an initiative called Walk With Rangers. The first trek lasted 15 days and through social media, she won the support of 70 global participants from 16 different countries who walked over 200 miles to raise awareness about the challenges facing rangers on the ground. This movement also raised funds which Raabia used to purchase an anti-poaching vehicle that operates currently in Tsavo. The trek is now an annual event, inviting people to experience the life of a ranger over 10 days in the harshest of terrain.

In 2015, 32 people from different countries participated in the Walk With Rangers event. Sadly, on the last day of the walk, which just happened to be World Elephant Day, the group encountered the carcass of an elephant who had been killed by poachers. The poachers had been scared off before they had the chance to cut off both of the elephant’s tusks, so the rangers who found her had the heart wrenching task of cutting off the animal’s remaining tusk so that it would not end up in the hands of poachers who would profit from it. Because of these kinds of situations, Raabia sees the work of rangers and wardens as an important calling—“when you make the decision to be a ranger and a warden you are willing to put your life on the line for these animals.”

For Raabia, the ivory trade is “worse than taboo, it is completely unacceptable.” She has seen many horrific scenes where calves have been trying in vain to wake their dead mothers, elephants who have been killed for ivory. Of this kind of encounter she says, “it really rips your soul apart,” and admits that she sometimes finds it hard to stay positive.

“Sometimes I don’t have any hope. I really don’t. When you see all that death and all that poaching. I’ve seen possibly hundreds of carcasses by now – I can’t even count them on my fingertips because there are so many. When you see that much destruction and decimation you really don’t have much hope for the future. But what keeps me going is the fact that I know that these animals have nobody to look after them. There is just a few of us, just a handful of rangers looking after them and safeguarding their lives. And the way I see it, and what makes us keep going in to the field, is that if we stop we are failing these animals because they are depending on us for their security, they are depending on us to keep them safe, to keep them alive, to keep their families safe from poachers and I would never let them down. Even if I lose all the hope in this world that will forever keep me going.”

When we visited Raabia in Kenya earlier this year she took us to her “chill spot,” a remote area in the midst of an old mining area. It was a beautiful and peaceful location with mountains in the distance, dried brush, and many different species of birds flying overhead. Sometimes Raabia pitches a tent here and just enjoys the solitude. This is an essential way to help her process the trauma she deals with in her work.

She also is filled with joy when she thinks of Puppy, a kitten she recently rescued. Puppy was found in a dump and he was very sick, but Raabia nursed him back to health and the two have become fast friends. Puppy is blind but that doesn’t slow him down. He travels everywhere with Raabia (Puppy even joined us for the photo shoot we did earlier this year!), and it is very touching to watch the two of them together.

Raabia also remembers that in the face of so much adversity it is important to remember that individual lives matter and that the rangers and anti-poaching organizations are making progress.

“It is very heartbreaking when you come across all the poached elephants. It really rips your soul to shreds. But that one animal you save, that one elephant that you are able to protect, that one animal that you take out of a wild snare or give water to – just that one animal, there is such a huge and profound reward in just that one tiny little act of goodness that you have done. And I think that as humans we all need that, we need to feel good about ourselves and you can only feel good about yourself if you do good to other living creatures and other people.”

It is these kinds of realizations that help her to stay strong and keep doing all she can for the wildlife of Kenya. Raabia has many creative ideas to help spread the message of conservation and to get more people involved in these efforts. For example, she proposed an amnesty period to help people get rid of ivory and wildlife trophies that they may have in their possession. She has come to learn that many citizens in Kenya have ivory and trophies (e.g. animal skins) in their homes. Often these items have been in their families for generations and now the current owners of these items do not know what to do with them. There is a growing shift in attitude towards ivory and animal trophies, more and more people are recognizing that not only are these items illegal but they are also unethical. However, one of the problems that has arisen in the midst of this shift is that people are afraid of being arrested if they try to get rid of these materials. The amnesty that Raabia proposed was a very successful initiative and several people participated by bringing ivory and other wildlife products to a central site where they were then burned. Many people asked if they could directly place family heirlooms on to the pyres, a moving testament to the changes in attitudes towards these kinds of items. Raabia has written a very thoughtful reflection about this experience which has been widely shared on social media.

Raabia knows how important it is to have community support for conservation efforts, and recognizes how damaging it can be when wildlife conservation or anti-poaching initiatives are pitted against local communities. She knows how important it is to work with the community, and to foster a sense of cooperation and goodwill instead of having people feel afraid of the wildlife conservation authorities. She believes that the fear of arrest has the potential to undermine the work that she and others are doing and, in this context, describes this amnesty period as a “small initiative that will have a huge impact.” In addition to creating important bridges between the conservation community and average citizens of Kenya, it also provides more information about the number of wildlife animals that have been harvested by locals over the years.

Raabia acknowledges that many Kenyans see wildlife conservation as an elite colonialist endeavour, but she wants to challenge this notion and demonstrate that protecting animals is something that everyone should care about. She is especially active in encouraging young people to get involved—“The time is now for the younger generation to take a grip on conservation and to stop whining and complaining that it is a colonialist thing or that it is an elitist thing. If I could break the barriers and I could get in I don’t think anyone else should be stopped or discouraged from doing the same thing.”

Raabia stresses that while this line of work “breaks you” it also has many rewards, including the way that it, “gives you a perspective on life that is fresh and new, and you appreciate everything, you appreciate every drop of water and every grain of rice that you have on your plate. And you appreciate life and I don’t think there is anything greater than that, really.” In spite of all of the long days and heartbreaking realities she faces, Raabia cannot imagine doing anything else with her life. “I would never go back to the days when I was walking on the ramp as a model,” she says thoughtfully, “I have no interest in that anymore.” She acknowledges that many people her age do strive for fame and fortune, but she now knows that there is something even more powerful “about being noticed by the animals you help that nobody else knows.”

It is like your own little secret, and it is just between you, that animal, and God. And that is the most powerful feeling, it is the most uplifting, enriching feeling in the whole entire world and I wouldn’t trade that for a million TV interviews or a million dollars.

Raabia has found that the animals she works so hard to protect have changed the way she sees the world. “I am inspired by wildlife every day,” she says, “I see some of their struggles and their pain.” She feels that humans (who she describes as being “prone to self-pity”) have a lot to learn from animals.

“I went through a lot of things in my personal life as well that made me upset and sad. It reached a point where I would just look back at the situations I have experienced and refused to let my own life get me down because sometimes you see these animals and they are in so much pain and you just wonder how on earth they are coping with all that pain – just physical pain, forget having to deal with the emotional pain of watching your mom get her faced hacked off for tusks, you have to deal with all that physical pain of your own machete wounds and snare wounds. I’ve seen animals that have had their spinal cord cut and they are still feeding their calves. It is really painful just to watch. I always think to myself that if they can go through all of that and not complain and still carry on with life, who am I, how can I be so selfish to just think about myself? I’m just dealing with one tiny little thing and I’m just making it like it is the whole world revolves around my one little problem or my one little issue. And all of that seems so selfish to me. So, in times of sadness and grief I’m inspired to lift my spirits up by animals and by animals that I’ve seen in pain and distress. I think they have a fighting spirit that is unmatched.”

That “fighting spirit” has had a lasting impact on Raabia who is not afraid to speak up against injustice. “If somebody is doing something wrong you can’t just let them,” she implores, “if you have a voice use it to help these animals because they can’t help themselves.”

Ledaiki Ann Nailateni

Ledaiki Ann Nailateni

“When a Woman is Educated, She Looks Beyond Her Nose and She Can See Far”


Ledaiki Ann Nailantei

Ledaiki Ann Nailateni is one of only a few Maasai women working with the Kenya Wildlife Service and we recently interviewed her about her commitment to protecting the wildlife of Kenya from poaching.

Ann exudes warmth and happiness about life. When she was given the opportunity to go to school, she took it, and has never looked back. She is fuelled by her passions and her gratitude for the opportunities she was given as a young orphaned girl. In return for her good fortune, she wants to, and does, give back to others.

Unbound Project: Can you tell us a bit about the Kenya Wildlife Service and the training you had with them?

Ledaiki Ann Nailateni: I joined the training last year and in this training I learned how to use a gun and how to be near animals. They wanted good things from us, because of the problems of poaching in Kenya. There were only two girls and fourteen boys chosen to be part of this training from our Maasai community, so I was among the luckiest out of 600 girls who had wanted to be part of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The organization started to help me in 2009. They took me, first of all, an orphan girl, the last one born in the family. I had a passion of going back to school, and I came here and graduated high school. I joined college and did a certificate in Conservation Wildlife and management. I really appreciate the help of Mia MacDonald (co-founder of the East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative and Brighter Green, who will also feature in the Unbound Project) as she is the one who made me love animals. Mia said to me, “why can’t a woman do this?” And she was right – I thought, “Why not me?”

U.P.: Who are the people that inspire you?

L.A.N.: In Africa, women are not often seen as useful to the community. So women like Wangari Maathai, who started the Green Belt Movement, are really inspiring to me. I really love her so much because she fought so hard for the environment. As women, maybe our voice will not be heard as much as the man’s voice, but I am following her — the cutting of trees, I can’t allow that; the clearing of animals, I can’t allow that.

U.P.: What is the greatest threat to wildlife in Kenya, and what is being done about it?

L.A.N.: The greatest threat is poaching. People are using new technology to poach nowadays. They use some funny machines to silence their guns, so you can’t get them. But in Kenya they are really trying to improve things, like they are putting cameras everywhere. And in South Africa they are training more soldiers.

And the other problem is industrialization. Like right now they’re building a bypass through Nairobi National Park. That takes a lot of space, so a lot of animals need to be moved, a lot of animals may die. Also, here in Nairobi National Park there’s air pollution, because it’s at the centre of the city, the animals are really suffering.

U.P. What’s your relationship like with the animals in the park?

L.A.N.: The animals are my friends. The people come from far and want to see the animals, so I have to conserve them. And second thing, I get paid a salary as a soldier–visitors come, pay the conservation fee. I have to go to school with the money I earn, I have to pay for my house and to eat and to get dressed. So the animals give me employment.

U.P.: Has your relationship with animals changed since working here? Do you see them differently before than you do now?

L.A.N.: Yeah, when I first started I could not go near a lion, but now I can. But, in some ways, things have not changed that much because I come from a Maasai community and we live with the animals, the wild and domestic.

Working with the animals gives me courage. Before I could not work at night because I used to think that night shifts were “a man’s job.” But in the training, you’re taken into the field and you spend ten good days alone, one person maybe a kilometre away, so you learn to listen to the jungle. This experience makes me feel that I can stand on my own. I don’t need a man to say it, I can be heard.

U.P.: Your relationship with animals now must be very different than the traditional Maasai relationship with animals. Is this conflicting for you?

L.A.N.: No because I can address my own community. To address another tribe or another community is very hard. I can talk to members of my community about the animals and the advantages of caring for the animals and for the environment. Animals need the community and the community needs them.

U.P: What is the most memorable moment you have had in the park with the animals?

L.A.N.: During night patrols we make a small hole in the ground and hide overnight. One night during my training it was my turn to be on patrol, so I had to spend the night in the hole I had made. At one point in the night a warthog was being chased by a hyena, and the warthog came and jumped in the hole with me for safety. [laughing] I was so startled that I screamed, and then the warthog jumped out and the hyena ran away because it heard my voice. I really enjoyed it. It was the best thing ever!

U.P: What do you think is the future of wildlife in Kenya?

L.A.N.: The future is still good because many people are coming out and fighting for the rights of the animals. Right now, the animals who are indigenous are the ones who are in biggest danger now, especially the rhino. This is because many people kill rhino just for their horn. But things are getting a bit better — as conservationists, we’re working on it. I still have hope, and my hope will not die.

U.P.: What are your dreams and aspirations?

L.A.N.: My dream is to become a hero for the Maasai community. I want people to listen to me when I tell them to conserve the animals and I want to see the animals be conserved. I want my great, great, great, great, great grandchildren to be able to see rhinos.

The second thing is I want is to study, so much. I want to become like Waangari Mathai, to be known everywhere. In fact, I want to win a Nobel Prize too. And also, I want to be the voice of women in Maasai community. You know, people are being circumcised, being married young. I want to help those women and I want to see them like me now. I want those who are in darkness to come to the light and know the goodness of being educated and know about what is going on.

U.P.: What do you think is the role of women, especially young women like yourself, in helping to protect animals and their habitat?

L.A.N.: The role of a woman in any community is really big. When a woman is educated, she looks beyond her nose and she can see far. In my experience, a woman will often take action more than a man because she has more interest in issues of others.

U.P. Can you tell us what it is like being out here every day?

L.A.N.: I learn many different things from different people. Being here in Nairobi National Park is really enjoyable, and I really appreciate the environment and the animals around me. At night you can’t sleep because of the lions “RAAAR” [laughing], so you really enjoy it. I was suffering before, before the training, but now I can stand for myself. I am really happy. And I have a passion for animals and the environment.

U.P.: Which animals do you feel most connected to, and which the least?

L.A.N.: I feel connected to all of the animals here, because I work with all animals, I see all of the animals. Though I fear buffalo, I can still work with them. So, all animals are important to me. But I have to say, I don’t like the poachers. Poachers don’t only harm the animals, they also cut down the trees. You know, everyone has their own passion. Mine is the environment.

U.P.: Did it take you a while to find that passion or was it always in you?

L.A.N.: It was just in me. When I was young in my home I always loved to plant flowers. You know, we start caring when we are born.

U.P.: Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t asked you?

L.A.N.: I thank the East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative for bringing me up, because without them I could be a grandmother now with ten kids [laughing]. I have a good job and I have to stand on my own. I also want to help others who come from similar backgrounds. I want to help the Maasai girls, to help them escape them from early marriages, circumcision, early pregnancy.

U.P.: Is there anything you want to say to the world, anything you want to say to youth, about taking care of animals?

L.A.N: I want to say to the youth, planting one tree is like saving the lives of ten people. We need to do this, because we, the young people, we are the ones who need this now, not the old people. So as youth, let’s conserve the environment, let’s stop poaching, let’s stop cutting down trees.

Ledaiki Ann Nailantei