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Esmond Bradley Martin made a long list of enemies in his fight against poaching

Esmond Bradley Martin, who has been found stabbed to death at his home in Kenya aged 76, was an American-born conservationist who fought against the poaching of rhino horn and elephant ivory in Africa.

He was particularly known for his freelance undercover work in establishing black-market prices and exposing smuggling cartels and international trafficking routes for organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the United Nations and Traffic, the Cambridge-based body that monitors illegal wildlife trade.

In the 1990s he spent a year posing as a Gorky Park-style illegal dealer, following the ivory trail from the kills to the marketplace and collecting data on how the price grew from about $20 per kilogram that the poachers received to almost $600 per kilogram in the Chinese marketplaces.

Among those he exposed were a diplomat at the Italian embassy in Lusaka who smuggled ivory in a sack of dog meat, the Indonesian ambassador in Dar-es-Salaam who turned his gated embassy compound into an ivory carving factory, and a North Korean official whose dozen suitcases laden with ivory smelled so bad that they attracted the attention of customs officials in Paris.

Tall, with a shock of white hair and the look of a blue-blooded scholar of Wasp extraction, Bradley Martin might have seemed an improbable undercover figure. Yet somehow he was able to persuade crooks, gangsters and underworld dealers that he was in the market for their ivory, acquiring in the process a long list of enemies.

He was anxious to demonstrate that, contrary to popular myth, rhino horn is not used by Asian people for sexual purposes. Rather, he said, it is used for lowering fever, especially in children, and for making handles for jambiyyas (daggers) in Yemen.

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Bradley Martin also turned his attention to the modern African slave trade, campaigning against well-intentioned Western goals to free slaves by paying their captors.

"The moment you pay to release slaves you give traders an incentive to raise prices," he told the journalist William Cash in 2001. "It's just like animal smuggling. The only way to kill off the ivory trade was to enforce a total ban."

Esmond Bradley Martin was born in New York City on April 17, 1941, the son of Esmond Bradley, an investor and the heir to a Pittsburgh steel magnate, and his wife Edwina (nee Martin). He was educated at the University of Arizona and in 1970 came to Britain to take a PhD at Liverpool. By that time he had been a research associate at the University of Nairobi.

His first book, The History of Malindi, a geographical analysis of an East African coastal town, was published in 1973. In the early 1990s he served as a UN special envoy for rhino conservation and recently he had been in Myanmar tracking down sources of demand for ivory.

Cash related how on one occasion Bradley Martin was working undercover in Sudan when his vehicle broke down in the middle of nowhere, and he and an American companion had to spend the night in the car. They woke to find themselves surrounded by "very aggressive" Sudanese armed with knives. After speaking with the men in Arabic, their guide casually informed them: "They kill you."

Bradley Martin made regular visits to London, always staying in the same room at the Knightsbridge Green Hotel and shopping in Harrods. He would emerge wearing a frock coat to take dinner with friends, always anxious to know the current state of the British media and which outlet would be sympathetic to his latest story about poaching.

He is survived by his wife Chryssee, an American heiress who worked on conservation projects with him.

The Telegraph, London