Esmond Bradley Martin, a leading conservationist who documented the black market ivory and rhino trade, was mysteriously killed at his home in Nairobi.
Authorities said Martin's wife found him on Sunday with a stab wound in his neck, multiple media outlets reported. Because his safe had also been raided, police said they believe his death may have been the result of a botched robbery. However, a motive has not been determined and no suspects have been identified.
Martin, who was in his 70s, moved to Kenya from New York several decades ago to dedicate his life to exposing the dark side of an industry that has soared in the last few decades due to growing demand in global markets, particularly in Asia. About 144,000 elephants were slaughtered for ivory poaching in less than a decade, the Great Elephant Census found in 2016. More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed last year.
His data-driven approach to documenting the black market routes and the prices that ivory and rhino horns fetched provided the concrete evidence that has helped spur a global crackdown on the practice, fellow conservationists said.
"Esmond was known for absolute rigour and painstaking precision in his methodology and reporting," Lisa Rolls, who leads the United Nations Environment's Wild For Life campaign, said in a statement. Martin had previously served as a U.N. Special Envoy on rhino conservation.
"He was always willing to lend his decades of expertise to explore approaches to tackling the illegal wildlife trade with complete objectivity," she added.
"Esmond was a global authority on ivory and rhino horn trafficking," added Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect. He "was at the forefront of exposing the scale of ivory markets in USA, Congo, Nigeria, Angola, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos and recently Myanmar."
Martin's latest report, published by the nonprofit Save The Elephants in 2017, analyzed the reduction in legal ivory trading in China as a result of the country's decision in 2015 to begin phasing out the illegal practice. It also found that Laos is the world's fastest-growing market for ivory.
While it's unclear if his work was related to his death, conservationists have long been targets for violence. Almost 200 environmentalists and eco-defenders were murdered last year, The Guardian reported, including wildlife conservationist Wayne Lotter. Lotter, who had received death threats throughout his career, was shot and killed while in a taxi in Tanzania.
"The situation remains critical," said Ben Leather, a senior campaigner for Global Witness, which worked with The Guardian to compile the report. "Until communities are genuinely included in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, those who speak out will continue to face harassment, imprisonment and the threat of murder."