“Mama, fungua mlango!” Open the door, they yelled. These were some of the last words that Joan Root, a dedicated conservationist, had heard before she was tragically shot to death through the windows of her bedroom at her home on the idyllic and acacia tree-lined shores of Lake Naivasha.
The history of Kenya has not been smooth by any definition. Every so often, contracted murders make the news. But when tragic tales of murder of individuals who tried to help protect the natural world emerge, we see how well-meaning people are never immune to ill intent, and in this case, a fatal one.
Joan Thorpe was born in Kenya in 1936. Daughter of a British settler who had come to Kenya to become a coffee planter, as was the trend in those days- think Karen Blixen in Out of Africa and Flame Trees of Thika- she met Alan Root, a daredevil conservationist and filmmaker amongst many other things, married him and went on to become one of the most highly acclaimed filmmaking couples to come out of Kenya, showing the world the beauty of the African wild.
Though apparently shy, along with her husband at the time, she boldly swam with hippos at the beautiful Mzima Springs, courageously held her face up to a spitting, venomous cobra, sustained a crash in their hot air balloon with Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the basket, and introduced Dian Fossey to the gorillas.
Her passion for protecting Lake Naivasha eventually spurred her to lead an almost war-like battle with the surrounding community. In amongst the burgeoning growth of flower farms around the lake, attracting many workers, informal settlements and pollution, she employed a ‘task force’ who would physically reprimand people for fishing in the lake. Her actions were widely disliked for many reasons, especially as many relied on fishing as a livelihood. Her being 'white' and exerting these harsh measures are said to have exacerbated the animosity. Sadly, in January 2006, the killers made their way into her property and shot her through her bedroom window. To this day they have not been able to find her murderers.
This is a tribute to Joan Root, to those who love fiercely and protect what they love.