Last month Mara Elephant Project reported the highest level of seizures of illegal logging since inception. Well, this month we saw even higher levels of logging, charcoal making, and bushmeat poaching.
pictured left: An illegal logging arrests made on July 24 with a power saw and 25 cedar timbers.
Overall, in July, MEP rangers in support of government partners arrested one bushmeat poaching suspect, recovered a total of 58 snares and confiscated 30 kg of bushmeat. The bushmeat poaching in the Mau Forest has increased at an alarming rate. Our partners at the Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) also reported very high levels of bushmeat poaching using snares surrounding the bongo hot spots which is extremely worrying as there are probably less than 20 bongo antelopes left in the forest. BSP CEO Mike Prettejohn reported that in July their trap cameras only took one fleeting photo of a bongo the whole month. MEP’s Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) Mau De-Snaring Unit will team up with BSP and Kenya Forest Service again next month to fight the snaring which plagues this area.
MEP rangers removed 32 snares on July 29 in the Mau Forest.
On July 24, Marc was asked to take a team of journalists from K24 around the Nyakweri Forest to illustrate the level of deforestation. This piece came out one week later and can be found here. This forest is home to over 50 elephants including Kenya Wildlife Service and MEP collared elephant Fitz (pictured left: Fitz photographed during one of the conflict incidents.), sponsored by Angama Foundation. His movements are illustrating how the elephants are using the forest. During the day they don’t really move and as soon as night falls, they go crop raiding in the surrounding farms which continue to encroach into the forest. Overall, in July, MEP in support of government partners arrested 47 habitat destruction suspects, destroyed 12 charcoal kilns, 21 bags of charcoal and recovered 2,580 posts, 501 pieces of timber, six logs and four power saws.
The SWT Mau De-Snaring Unit transporting seized cedar posts and charcoal on July 18.
The MEP intel team with Kenya Wildlife Service backup is still picking up stashes of ivory when the dealers decide to sell it. This month we had two ivory recoveries, one from the southern end of the Loita Forest and one in the Kehancha area of Transmara. The total number of kilos recovered was 18 and three suspects were arrested.
pictured left: The 11 kg of ivory recovered on July 23.
The suspect arrested on July 13 with three pieces of ivory.
MEP rangers responded to 18 total conflict incidents in July. We expect this number to decrease as farmers are harvesting ripened crops at the moment.
pictured left: MEP rangers stationed in the Kilae/Kilaye area of the Nyakweri Forest pushing elephants out of farms nightly.
We had one heart racing encounter when during one conflict mitigation operation near Aitong our Suzuki vehicle was damaged by an elephant. The vehicle was being used to push the elephant out of farms and it drove its tusks through the rear side window. Luckily, both elephants and rangers are fine and there is some minimal damage to repair. The Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter was used to respond to a conflict incident involving collared elephants Hannibal and Napoleon in Mosiro. Additionally, we deployed one of MEP’s rapid response units to the southern side of Olderkesi near Cottars 1920’s Camp after we got reports of rogue bulls coming into settlement areas and also raiding tomato farms along the Sand River. Ivy continued breaking geo-fences and Fitz and his herd in Nyakweri required regular conflict mitigation from the MEP ranger team stationed there. Newly collared elephant Ritan has been crop raiding nightly. Marc was able to see collared elephant Gina and her herd in the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary in the Shimba Hills. The roads inside the Mwaluganje have been repaired with support from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which should attract more local tourism and enable management to increase patrols in the sanctuary.
Collared elephants Napoleon and Hannibal were involved with a conflict incident on July 5 that the helicopter responded to.
We saw the return of the migratory wildebeest from the Serengeti in July. Data from tracked animals has recently shown that the wildebeest are spending less time in the Mara portion of the ecosystem possibly due to human pressures and competition with livestock. The lesser known Loita Plains migration which used to number 100,000 individuals, has been severely affected by infrastructure development and we hope that the fence data being collected by MEP across the conservancies/Loita plains will help to explain the changes in movement patterns of both elephants and wildebeest. Both of our field assistants David and Amos are working on mapping fences, roads and landcover ground-truthing points using motorbikes and our Njia app.
MEP Monthly Report July 2020
In late July, a Caltech student based in the US – Peter Kulits – setup an instance of Wildbook for elephants in the Greater Mara Ecosystem. Wildbook software is designed specifically for individual based identification of animals and recording encounters while in the field. Wildbook uses advanced machine learning algorithms to help identify individuals and was pioneered on species such as whale sharks and zebras that have distinctive visual markings. Attempts have been made to use elephant ear contours but so far with limited success. Peter has managed to link our Elephantbook with the MEP EarthRanger platform and is researching ways of using different machine learning approaches to help identify elephants based on visual characteristics. We are grateful for the collaboration with ElephantVoices on this project who have shared a vast archive of elephant photos and sighting records with us from the Mara.
The elephant Fred (seen here on the left with another bull on Mara North Conservancy) was the first elephant sighting we entered in the new Mara ‘ElephantBook’ software platform.
MEP celebrated World Ranger Day on July 31 with a video featuring Wilson Sairowua and Marc Goss talking about how important rangers are to the organization. Thank you to everyone who celebrated and supported MEP!
MEP’s Chairman Colin Church was featured in an article in The Star discussing his new book and his lifetime of conservation work. Mustafa Suleimaji celebrated his birthday by raising money for MEP on Facebook. We continued to see supplies from MEP’s Amazon Wish List come in. Thank you to the anonymous donors and Jennifer and Walter who donated Life Straws, lithium batteries, backpacks and rain jackets for our rangers (pictured left). One major push that we undertook in July was to get Charity Navigator to rate the Sidekick Foundation, Inc. and include a profile for us on their website. Many donors use this resource to do their due diligence on charities and though Charity Navigator uses GuideStar as a guide to rate charities, MEP still has not been included on that. You can vote here to help. We also successfully registered MEP on MyGivingCircle on which individuals can make a donation to the charity of their choice and also vote for organizations to receive a grant. Thank you to all of the photographers that entered into the July edition of The Greatest Maasai Mara photo competition and supported Mara Elephant Project.
On July 7, Mara Elephant Project rangers distributed masks donated by Paradise International Foundation in the Naisoya area of the Mau Forest; a very remote community that lives alongside the forest. Keeping the community safe during the COVID-19 outbreak has been a top priority for MEP. The virus has reached the “community transmission” stage which means that it is now in communities and continues to spread. As of the end of July, there are 20,636 confirmed cases and 341 deaths in Kenya. During the last address the President indicated that the cessation of movement would be raised in Nairobi and Mombasa and further restricted the sale of alcohol at restaurants. MEP has changed our protocols to a mandatory 2-week quarantine at the HQ for staff coming back to work from off and leave to return to their patrol bases. While we need to do the best we can to flatten the curve and keep safe and isolated, we do need to continue with our work.