“Ladies’ First” – A year of learning, analysis and innovation with the MEP females leading the charge.
Over the last 10 years, the world has witnessed some of the most unforgettable history defining moments. The spark and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, the signing of more climate action agreements than in any other decade and for the first time in US history, renewable power energy consumption surpassed that of coal.
It was also 10 years, that Mara Elephant Project was founded. Concerned about the future of the iconic Maasai Mara and its elephant population that is critical to the sustainability of the landscape, a group of like-minded individuals including our co-founders, Suzie Fehsenfeld and the late Richard Roberts, and my predecessor, the incomparable Colin Church, came together and formed the Mara Elephant Project (MEP).
From a fledgling organization operating out of a small building in the northern corner of the Mara, MEP is now a fully operational research, community development and wildlife protection hub. MEP continues to support cutting edge technology and research on elephant species, rapid response wildlife and natural resources protection and innovative social enterprises that merge elephant protection, livelihoods and conservation science.
So, as the world has been evolving, so too has MEP. Our latest evolution without any doubt, has been female led.
As the new Chair of MEP, a key highlight for me in the last year amongst the countless wins that we have achieved not including the phenomenal growth of our valuable research team to a year of zero poaching incidents, are the “Ladies of MEP.”
Topping my list of three, is the most notorious of the pack – Ivy, the “Crop-A-Holic” matriarch. Originally collared in 2011, she is not only one of our longest tracked elephants, but she also provides critical movement data and conflict prevention data. Ivy’s collar has helped MEP together with our key partners at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) monitor and analyse crop raiding behaviours in order to help communities better protect their farms and crops. We quickly established that Ivy and her herd have mastered the art of stealth only in a way that an elephant can. They are so quiet that often at night, MEP rangers can’t hear them until they see them. They have learned the best places to stay safe and hidden during the day, that are conveniently bordering the farms filled with ripe crops that they raid in the dead of night. With this data and knowledge of her patterns and behaviours, MEP has helped create many geo-fences around farmer’s property that alert our rangers when she’s nearby and help prevent any retaliatory attacks by the communities.
Next on my formidable ladies list is Abigael, who for many years has been figuring out solutions to create co-existence between her farming community and her rowdy neighbours including Ivy.
Growing up in Kajiado, her community had been hit hard by drought which led to devastating losses and consequences including source of income, livestock and a rise in levels of malnutrition and food insecurity. Driven to find solutions to such ills and armed with a university scholarship from EARTH University, she embarked on a turn-point journey that took her to the other end of the world – Costa Rica. Back in Kenya now, Abigael runs the MEP Experimental Farm Project with her team of five. The MEP Experimental Farm is exploring alternative crop scenarios that might help reduce the elephant crop-raiding pressure and diversify financial income for local farmers.
Serving two purposes – research and community – the MEP Experimental Farm recently harvested their first batch of vegetables, and they had community members from the area streaming in for the organic produce. It has also helped us, and the communities understand that staple foods like maize will continually be raided by hippos and elephants, and we need to find other alternative local crops that are fit for human consumption but less tempting to the palettes of the surrounding wildlife.
Rounding out my Top 3 lists is Caren. Caren is one of four MEP female rangers. Caren, from Narok County, was identified at the October 18, 2019 Mau Forest recruitment. During the selection process, she was one of nine recruits selected from over 50 applicants that passed the physical fitness and one-on-one interview process.
Once she completed training at MEP HQ, she was assigned to the second Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mau De-Snaring Unit and deployed in January. During her deployment Caren was a critical member of the ranger unit and contributed to many of their successes during the time. She also proved to be of top aptitude in her field medical package, which qualified her for additional training in Tsavo from Ranger Campus. Ranger Campus offers a competency-based, innovative and measurable approach to ranger training and concentrates on the long-term training of rangers. While at Ranger Campus, Caren not only excelled but was noted as a “top 1%” recruit and has earned many distinctions in the course. Topping this achievement, in 2021, she won the first ever World Female Ranger award sponsored by How Many Elephants.
It was recently stated that Africa’s future will be women driven, female led, and Caren, Abigael and “Ivy” are charting that course. A better understanding of our challenges will support MEP’s ability to fast track our monitoring work, accelerate our analysis and drive better protection mechanisms that will help us move from conflict to co-existence.
Caren and Abigael are part of a growing cohort of female leaders at MEP, including two other female rangers, two other female field researchers and two female intelligence officers.
As we move through uncertain times navigating a post pandemic existence, and we are forced to rethink our relationship with the natural world, I have every confidence in the MEP team. Our continued impact, as stated in this report, will be our roadmap going forward and we will strive harder for the existence of a stable elephant population co-existing peacefully with people across the Greater Mara Ecosystem (GME).
With data, improved learning and the value recognition of this great natural asset that is the Maasai Mara, we can only hope that for the decedents of Ivy, Abigael and Caren co-existence will be a norm rather than a challenge.
Mara Elephant Project Trust
A Decade of Impact
A Year of Impact
In 2021, Mara Elephant Project celebrated 10 years of operation, our Kumi Anniversary. It was an amazing year of reflection to look back on the last decade of impact for MEP and see how far we’ve come. What started with me and one team of eight rangers in 2011 has now grown to over 70 Kenyan employees, eight ranger teams, an area of operation that now reaches outside of the Greater Mara Ecosystem and a decade of impact that makes me proud every day to be the CEO of this great organization. We could not have celebrated 10 years of success without our important government partners, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Narok County Government and the countless other partner organizations in conservation, tourism, technology and more who have shaped us. In 2021, we celebrated the largest level of support to date for MEP and the greatest number of donors we’ve ever seen. We are so grateful for everyone’s support in 2021 that has allowed us to expand our research department, boots on the ground operations and message.
As I write this, Kenya has just relaxed their mask mandates and COVID testing protocols to enter the country. Now is the time to visit Kenya and see firsthand the amazing wildlife and wild spaces Mara Elephant Project is working diligently to protect. You are all invited to join us.