Mara Elephant Project has just released its 2015 Annual Report and it shows a decline in poaching in the Mara. We are proud to report that the number of carcasses has reduced from 85 in 2014 to 46 in 2015.
In addition PIKE (Percentage of Illegally Killed Elephants) levels have also reduced by 19% from 2014 (73%) to 2015 (59%).
“During the period of January 2015 to December 2015 I am pleased to report a decline in elephant deaths compared with the last 3 years. MEP does not claim that this decline is solely attributable to our efforts. Working closely with KWS in the area of law enforcement, we have had a significant impact in changing the poaching trend. This decline is in large part due to the increased opportunity cost of poaching, but also the increase of conservation and visible protection efforts in the area.” Marc Goss, CEO MEP
There are three main reasons for an increase in elephant security.
MEP deployed a total of 31 rangers in 2015. The rangers are broken into three categories: patrol groups (five groups), the intelligence unit, and Rapid Response Unit. The ranger patrol groups are rotated between five stations for two weeks at a time. Each patrol is stationed in a geographical area, which has been identified as a poaching hotspot. Each patrol group’s camp is specifically designed to be lightweight and easily moved. The intelligence team’s nucleus is MEP Headquarters and they also work closely with Kenya Wildlife Service and the local police. The Rapid Response Unit is any of the patrol groups with a vehicle allowing them to move to a new area at a moments notice.
The Rapid Response Unit is now augmented through the generous access to the Karen Blixen Camp helicopter.
We recovered 449.7 kg. of ivory from ivory dealers, facilitators and gunmen across Narok County, Laikipia County and Kwale County in Kenya. For each arrest, MEP makes sure the case is carefully documented and followed through the prosecution process to conviction. Most suspects plead ‘not guilty’ so many of the cases in 2015 have not been concluded and we continue to follow these with MEP rangers acting as witnesses and providing evidence in court.
MEP uses conviction rates as an indicator for systemic change. If poachers are being convicted and courts are building on a precedence of stiff penalties we believe that poachers, facilitators and dealers will decline the opportunity to engage in this illegal activity.
Mitigating Human-Elephant Conflict
The second major activity for elephant security is reacting to elephants when they come into conflict with humans. This usually happens in common areas where humans are farming and elephants are living. The majority of HEC incidents have been in the Transmara, where the MEP team has been actively pushing elephants out of farms and reacting to 24 conflicts during the year.
Currently there are 12 collared elephants in the ecosystem that are tracked in near real time. The location of the collared elephants is checked at least three times in each 24-hour period at the command center at MEP HQ. The rangers are sent the coordinates for those close to potential danger areas or if they are showing signs of unusual movement like streaks (quick movements), proximity to settlements and general movement patterns. When this happens the rangers then visit the elephants and make a visual inspection.
The data on elephant locations gathered from satellite collars not only informs a number of different security activities of the organization, but also provides a key component in developing the evidence base needed to inform and influence county and national spatial plans. More specifically, plans which incorporate “space” or “areas” of land which have been historically and currently used by elephants and wildlife. This helps us build a case for important space for elephants and wildlife in the future. The most comprehensive set of data is that collected by the collars deployed, but it is not the only data set we collect.
Ranger data is equally as important as the collars. In 2015 MEP has developed GPS tracking of all ranger patrol movements in the field. MEP has been working with our partner PREPARED to track rangers and add patrol data via a smart phone app called WILD. Each ranger team is now issued with a GPS device, which tracks their movements that are then downloaded when they return to base and compared to the movements of the collared elephants in their patrol area. These developments are enabling MEP to both better monitor the movement of patrols and plan patrols.
“We have noted a significant decline in elephant poaching over the past year, not only in the Mara Ecosystem, but countrywide. The drop in poaching can be attributed to public awareness and the imposition of far stiffer sentences but undoubtedly, the work done by MEP’s Core and Intelligence teams contributed to the decline. Providing eyes on the ground in key areas, collecting invaluable intelligence – and acting on it – have not only resulted in numerous arrests, but also served as a deterrent to poachers. This could not have been achieved without the support of, and collaboration with, other conservation organizations and I would like to single out the excellent cooperation with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).” Brian Heath, MEP Board Chairman
MEP has set the goal of lowering the Percentage of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) to 50% by the end of 2017! Help us reach this goal!