The world lost two of its greatest guardians this week. On 8th December, Mark Jenkins and his son, Peter, died after their plane went down during a patrol of Tsavo East National Park. We are still wrapping our minds around this terrible tragedy.
Mark Jenkins was a once-in-a-generation conservationist. He devoted his entire life to protecting East Africa’s wild spaces — and he showed that same dedication as a father, husband, friend, and leader. Peter was following in his father’s footsteps and was already a force of nature in his own right. He had completed his conservation degree and was spending time in the field before beginning his training at Sandhurst in April. He had a bright future ahead of him.
While his time was cut too short, a man like Mark never really leaves us. His legacy lives on through the wildernesses he helped transform, from the Selous and Serengeti in Tanzania, to Uganda, to swathes of Kenya, the country where he was born and raised. His father, Peter Jenkins, was the founding warden of Meru National Park. Mark spent much of his childhood there and later became the Meru park warden himself. His career then took him across East Africa, where he left his mark on some of the continent’s most remarkable landscapes.
Mark could tell a great story — and how many stories he had! His life was defined by action. He was never one to stand by; he was always the first to roll up his sleeves and dive into a project. Where many would only see impossibilities, Mark saw endless opportunities. He was happiest when out in the field, working alongside his team.
Everyone admired Mark. He was a gentleman and a bush man, equal parts passionate, principled, and practical. Mark was never after recognition or personal glory; he was a team player in every sense. Those lucky enough to work with Mark will agree that he was only interested in getting the job done — and relishing every second of the process.
Last year in May, when we were given the monumental task of enhancing conservation in the Galana/Kulalu Ranches, we knew Mark was the perfect person to spearhead the project. Covering some 2 million acres, this vast landscape spans nearly the entire eastern boundary of Tsavo East National Park. Decades of poaching, charcoal burning, cattle incursions, and other illegal activities had blighted the ranches.
Far from being daunted by the task at hand, Mark was galvanised. He established a field headquarters, assembled a capable team, and got to work. Our presence in Galana/Kulalu began 18 months ago, but already we have seen a dramatic improvement. Leery of lurking threats, elephants used to avoid many parts of the ranches. Thanks to Mark and his team’s anti-poaching work, illegal activities are down and hundreds of elephants are accessing the deepest reaches of the landscape.
Even with a lifetime spent in the wild, Mark never lost his enthusiasm and passion for the work he did. A message from Mark usually contained a photo of an impressive tusker he had just spotted, or a captivating tale of his latest field operation. It is hard to believe that we won’t receive these messages again.
Mark and Peter died doing what they loved. They were flying for the Trust when their plane went down. We will never know the precise circumstances that caused the crash. Mark's last communication called for ground teams to move out while access remained possible, ahead of a huge storm that was moving in.
We are deeply moved by the outpouring of love from all those who knew Mark over the years. The teams he worked alongside, the communities he collaborated with, the countless people he impacted along the way — everyone is devastated by his loss. As someone who never sought the limelight and worked only for the purest reasons, we can’t help but think he would be surprised by all the lives he touched over the years. Mark has inspired, mentored, and shaped a generation of conservationists. He will never, ever be forgotten.
Like his father, Peter was a powerhouse. With a natural competence that belied his years, he had already achieved so much in his life. All who knew Peter will remember him as conscientious yet fun-loving, extraordinarily capable of whatever was thrown his way. We are devastated that this remarkable young man’s life was cut so cruelly short.
Mark and Peter leave two irreplaceable holes in the world. Our hearts go out to Clare, Mark’s wife and Peter’s mother, and Myles, Mark’s son and Peter’s brother.
The best way we can honour Mark’s legacy is to continue the work he started. He is a tough act to follow, but we will carry on in his name. And we believe that the greats never really leave us. Mark and Peter are looking down on us from beyond, their blue eyes ever sparkling.