The Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF), an initiative launched by Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network, in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, has a simple mission: save elephants, end the ivory crisis. They do this by supporting the best ideas to end the ivory crisis, those that deliver a rapid impact on the ground with 100% of every dollar they generate going directly to the frontline. The ECF and Mara Elephant Project (MEP) align in this mission and thanks to ECF’s support, MEP can now better protect elephants in a habitat under threat from increased illegal logging, the Loita Forest.
The Loita Forest does not have a jurisdictional protected area status leaving it vulnerable to poaching, grazing and illegal logging. Although forests cover just over 3% of Kenya’s land area, they contain 50% of the nation’s tree species, 40% of the larger mammals and 30% of known bird species, making them a critical habitat for wildlife. In addition, Kenya’s largest rivers originate in the Aberdares, Mt. Kenya and the Mau Forest complex, but also smaller forests such as Loita are key to the provision of water year-round for wildlife and people.
MEP patrol rangers near their campsite in the Loita Forest.
This is why MEP expanded into the Loita area in 2018 by re-deploying rangers from the core rapid response units away from conflict hotspots during the low conflict seasons. The rapid response team was tasked with monitoring elephants, shutting down illegal logging sites, rooting out poachers, and helping mitigate human-elephant conflict to better relations with the bordering community. What they found when they arrived, was very discouraging; lots of illegal logging was taking place in the forest, the community farms were encroaching on the forested land and they even found an active poachers camp. As a result, in October 2018, MEP’s investigations unit was deployed to the area and quickly discovered an active poaching ring, an elephant carcass without tusks estimated to be a month old and animals that were all very skittish. They also found a herd of over 100 elephants living in this portion of the forest, all of which would be at a high risk of poaching or being harmed while coming in contact with humans.
Illegal logging operations as seen from the helicopter in October 2018.
As recently as February 7, 2019, a two-month-old elephant carcass without tusks was found in the Loita area by MEP’s rapid response unit and suspects continue to be arrested for bushmeat poaching, illegal logging and charcoal production. The MEP rapid response unit is working daily to protect elephants that play a key role in structuring habitats, but they needed a dedicated vehicle to ensure they could cover a large distance. That’s where the ECF came in. They’ve donated the funds for MEP to purchase a new Toyota Land Cruiser for the Loita team. This will begin operations as soon as it has been retrofitted with the necessary equipment such as bull bars and benches for the rangers. The ECF has ensured MEP’s ability to protect elephants in the Loita Forest will directly help protect the forest and the communities living alongside it.