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Tobias O Nyumba BSc MPhil

Tobias O Nyumba BSc MPhil

PhD Student, Churchill College

Flagships or Battleships? Understanding "Hidden" Aspects of Human Elephant Interactions and their Impacts on Human Wellbeing in Trans Mara District, Kenya

My research interests centre on the social and ecological implications of human and wildlife interactions, especially within human-dominated landscapes. I am particularly interested in both applied and practical perspectives, including research and development of tools and policies to sustainably mitigate the direct and hidden negative impacts of human-elephant interactions. The overall objective of my research is to ensure effective conservation and management of wildlife within a framework of poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

In the field, my PhD research will explore the "hidden" aspects of the interactions between humans and African elephants (Loxodonta africana) within a heterogeneous land use mosaic in Trans Mara District, Kenya. This district supports wildlife conservation and tourism, as well as agro-pastoralism and agriculture. Therefore, it is critical to understand how such interactions impact on different components of human wellbeing, to devise appropriate and effective conservation strategies in the district.



  • 2013-present: PhD Student in Geography, Churchill College Cambridge
  • 2007-2008: Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Environment, Society and Development (Good Pass), Downing College Cambridge
  • 1999-2004: Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Environmental Science (2.1), Egerton University, Kenya


Tobias has over seven (7) years of work experience in research, conservation and management of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). He has worked previously with specific reference to the mitigation of adverse impacts of interactions between elephants and people; elephant ecology and behaviour; conservation policy; and, public awareness and education. Tobias first worked as a research assistant for the Darwin Initiative funded project under the University of Cambridge's Department of Geography titled: Building Capacity to Alleviate Human-Elephant Conflict in North Kenya. Subsequently, he became Project Manager for Space for Giants Trust in Kenya. In both posts, he worked on applied research projects to mitigate human-elephant conflict and to promote coexistence with elephants in Laikipia County. Latterly, Tobias worked with the African Wildlife Foundation's Samburu Landscape to undertake the science and applied ecological research work, before beginning his PhD research at Cambridge.

Awards and scholarships

  • 2013-2016: Cambridge Trusts Churchill/Sidney Sussex Southern African Cambridge Scholarship
  • 2013-2014: The Wildlife Conservation Society's Tellus Leadership Scholarship
  • 2013-2016: Wildlife Conservation Network's Schink Scholarship for Wildlife Conservation
  • 2013-2015: Wildlize Foundation Scholarship Grant
  • 2012: Student Conference on Conservation Science, Internship Bursary
  • 2011: WWF's Russell E. Train Education for Nature Professional Development Grants (PDG)
  • 2007-2008 Cambridge Trust's Stephen Fleet Scholarship
  • 2007-2008 Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship
  • 2014: Churchill College Sports Expenses Grants
  • 2008: Hawks Charitable Trust Sporting Bursary


Elephant collaring

Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is a major problem for many communities, especially where protected areas border or species' ranges come close to, or overlap with, rural communities. Large mammals and carnivores are mostly implicated in conflict. Elephants, in particular, can stir up strong emotions, simultaneously becoming both a pest and a threatened species. In recent years, conflicts between humans and elephants have escalated throughout their range especially where agriculture is the predominant land use practice. In Kenya, the problem is particularly salient, given that at least 70% of the country's wildlife exists outside of formally protected areas (PAs) or on PAs located adjacent to human settlements, where the conflict between people and wildlife is leading to population collapse of many species.

Broadly speaking, HWC is a Classic representation of the tension between conservation and pursuit of human wellbeing. HWC has both direct and indirect (hidden) impacts on human wellbeing. Debates and research on HWC have predominantly been framed and measured in terms of the direct impacts such as crop losses, human deaths and injuries, property damage and livestock loss and injuries. This approach has largely ignored the indirect ("hidden") forms of human elephant interactions. Defined as costs that are temporarily delayed, uncompensated, psychological or social in nature, they demonstrate that the impacts of HWC extend beyond the physical to the psychological and social wellbeing of individuals experiencing such costs. "Hidden" forms of HWC include, but not limited to, opportunity costs associated with conflict mitigation and protection activities, opportunity costs of living with elephants, transaction costs associated with pursuing compensation, and "hidden" social costs such as diminished states of psychological or physical wellbeing.

Current debates have called for deeper understanding of "hidden" impacts of HWC through a human-centered lens. This approach to the subject stems from a belief that 'hidden' perspectives have been underemphasized in the context of HWC. This is thought to arise from two causes: 1.) As a result of the conservation agenda upon which HWC research is premised; and 2.) The difficulty in quantifying such impacts. Nevertheless, hidden impacts remain critical for elephant conservation and management as they probably outweigh direct impacts as perceived by individuals and communities and in understanding both the limitations and potential of existing conflict mitigation measures.

My research aims to explore and document the "hidden" aspects of human-elephant interaction and their impacts on the constituents of human wellbeing in Kenya's Trans Mara District, one of the worst conflict hotspots in southern Kenya. The research will employ mixed methods approach with both qualitative and quantitative techniques to obtain information on perceived and actual status human-elephant conflicts. This study will apply the Social Wellbeing Framework to analyse impacts of "hidden" forms of human-elephant interactions on the constituents of human wellbeing: "Subjective", "Material" and "Relational" as defined by Gough and McGregor (2007).


Peer-reviewed Journals and Book Chapters

Working Papers and Reports

External activities

  • Member, Political Ecology Research Group,
  • Member, Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF)
  • Member, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute (UCCRI)
  • Full Blue, Cambridge University Volleyball Club (CUVC)
  • Visiting Academic, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, April 2012
  • Member, African Society of Cambridge University
  • Member , Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group