When collaring, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Mara Elephant Project focus on candidates that will gather useful spatial data meaning elephants in border areas, areas of conflict or areas outside of conservancies or national reserves. We are also looking for candidates that represent crop raiding elephants identified across the dispersal area. In the southern area of Olderekesi Conservancy near Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp, which borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve, MEP received reports of a small group of bull elephants going into settlement areas and raiding tomato farms along the Sand River. In response, MEP deployed a rapid response unit to this area to mitigate conflict; a good short-term solution for crop raiding elephants. However, the long-term solution is KWS and MEP’s approach of collaring, monitoring and collecting data on one of the bull elephants in this group.
The MEP rapid response team tracked this bull elephant group regularly over the weekend and on August 17, KWS and MEP, with assistance from KWS Vet Dr. Limo, collared a bull elephant in the herd and named him David. The collaring operation was successful and, as always, the Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter was deployed to ensure personnel and elephant safety (pictured left).
The newly collared bull elephant in this area will provide data that is used daily to mitigate human-elephant conflict and inform ranger deployment. Using both the KWS and MEP EarthRanger tracking platform we can see real-time monitoring algorithms that will detect if this collared elephant becomes immobile, breaches a geo-fence, or starts to move slowly which could indicate an injury or illness. These alerts will allow MEP rangers to react at a moment’s notice to him. Each day coordinates are sent to the nearby ground patrol who will check on him and his herd. Depending on the satellite image quality, it is also possible to see settlements near the collared elephant, which is used to anticipate possible human-elephant conflict incidents and intervene before they occur.
In the long-term, the movement data this elephant generates will help us better understand the connectivity between the Maasai Mara National Reserve along the Sand River into the southern Loita Forest, an important area of operation for MEP rangers. We generate monthly tracking reports and density and movement maps to better understand the patterns and behavior of these tracked animals. The collar data is not only helping with the joint KWS and MEP security operations but is also building up a valuable database on the spatial movements and resource selection of elephants. Particularly useful are longitudinal datasets that can show changes in movements over time in response to changing environmental and anthropogenic conditions.