Human-Elephant Conflict Has a Season

Human-elephant conflict is on the rise as the space in the Mara diminishes. As the human population grows the rangeland demand for livestock and farming has increased which is pushing wild animals like elephants into smaller areas. This is resulting in the subdivision of land across much of the Mara landscape. The fragmentation of the ecosystem is blocking key elephant migration routes (corridors) and is rapidly accelerating human-elephant conflict (HEC), which is why HEC has become one of the main focuses of Mara Elephant Project’s mission.

An aerial view of farmland that is dividing up elephant corridors. 

Finding methods to mitigate this growing concern pushes MEP to use better, more effective, techniques and technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter. We are also actively working on expanding our data collection points so that we can not only pinpoint areas with the most HEC activity, but also certain times of the year when it’s more prevalent.

MEP has found that by tracking the planting and maturation rate of crops in the Mara we can accurately predict what we call “harvest season,” a time period when elephants will be most interested in the ripened crops on farms. MEP has found that during planting times we’re not seeing as many HEC mitigation calls, but during harvest, they increase exponentially. Knowing this helps MEP understand when we’ll need more resources to respond to the increase in HEC.

Elephants being pushed out of farmland at night by the helicopter. 

The Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter is an essential tool in mitigating HEC in the Mara. It allows us to rapidly respond to conflict situations; however, it’s expensive to operate at $400 an hour. So, by tracking the 2017 monthly costs of the helicopter, one can see a key pattern emerge.

Transmara Crop Damage

The amount of damage an elephant can do to a farmer’s ripened crops. 

This past year some of the costlier months included January, May, June, July and August. In January, MEP responded to four HEC incidents with a total flying cost of $2,262. In May, MEP responded to five incidents of HEC for a total of $3,320. June was another expensive conflict month, costing $2,000, with conflict in the Serengeti continuing to rise. During this time period, the area was drying up and as a result elephant herds were amalgamating into super herds or clans. During one operation, we counted a clan of over 100 individuals in the Mosiro area, which is a daunting thought for a farmer in this area. This all leading into July, our most expensive month to date for the helicopter, costing $5,680 to fly in response to nine human-elephant conflict situations. August slowed down a bit with six incidents of human-elephant conflict response in the helicopter costing us $3,160.

Elephants crop raiding. 

Compare this to February when the helicopter was used only once in response to HEC to move over 100 elephants out of farms in the Kirindon area after they were stranded and surrounded by angry farmers. There were four of MEP’s collared elephants in this mega herd which allowed us to more effectively respond to their exact location. The helicopter used 1.62 hours of flying time to respond to this conflict at a cost of $648. In March, we had a similar situation where a large herd of elephants needed to be pushed from Oldonyo Narasha to Olkinyei for the cost of $648 in flying time. The month of April we flew several notable flights where the helicopter directly resulted in saving an elephant life. Not only was the helicopter able to move the elephants out of farms but it also distracted the angry mob of farmers who were attacking the two other bull elephants. This response cost $753 to operate the helicopter. By September and October the HEC responses were almost non-existent due to crops having been harvested in August giving a much-needed break to the helicopter operations.

MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss using the helicopter to push an elephant out of farmland. 

There’s hardly time for a break as another harvest season in November is upon us. This is why having consistent funding for the helicopter is so essential to MEP’s successes in the Mara. Whether it’s a busy time for crops or a slow time, you’ll see the impact the helicopter has made in mitigating human-elephant conflict.