As Mara Elephant Project officially ends our seventh year in operation, I reflect on how we’ve come such a long way from the shipping container and tent that used to be MEP’s headquarters. I’m amazed and proud of the continued donor support we receive, the success we continue to see on the ground by MEP, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Narok County Government (NCG) rangers, and the growth our organization has seen in 2018.
Our organization is successful because of our rangers and I’m continually impressed with the great success our intelligence unit has had in 2018. They have arrested, between January and December, with the help of our partners KWS and NCG, 38 ivory dealers and recovered 356 kg of ivory. Our patrol units also continue to be successful in mitigating human-elephant conflict and removing snares from the Mara ecosystem. They’ve removed 324 snares and responded to 203 incidents of human-elephant conflict in 2018. We continue to test the effectiveness of new mitigation techniques like flashing light fences and collar alarms into 2019. In 2018, MEP replaced two old collars that were due to expire on Kegol and Caroline. A main issue in 2018 was the durability of MEP’s elephant collars which, frustratingly, led to Lucy, Nancy, Earhart and Julia’s collars all dropping off and Amare’s collar stopped reporting due to water damage. We’ve been working with our supplier to fix these issues and they have replaced the thin material with Kevlar, which seems to be holding up well on our Mau Forest elephant – Bettye.
MEP’s new partner in 2018, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT), understands that where MEP rangers have a presence, all wildlife including elephants are better protected. This is why, in January, they invested in a new Mau Forest ranger unit that was tasked with removing snares, rooting out poachers and illegal logging operations and working with the bordering community to mitigate human-elephant conflict. I am extremely proud of the accomplished team MEP and SWT put together with KWS, NCG and Kenya Forest Service to protect the Mau Forest.New government and research organizations we partnered with in 2018 include the Singita Grumeti Fund and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), both in Tanzania. In February, I was able to offer my collaring expertise and conducted a collaring operation in Tanzania that successfully collared 12 elephants all supported by the Grumeti Fund in Tanzania. The operation was a huge success and we linked our head of intelligence with theirs and they’ve formed a formidable team operating on both sides of the border. Additionally, in September, MEP worked with TAWIRI in the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania to collar 13 elephants to start to understand how elephants move inside this huge ecosystem. I was impressed by the expertise of the TAWIRI team and it was a pleasure to work with them.
MEP partnered with Seedballs Kenya in 2018 to help reforest the Mara in some of the areas devastated by illegal charcoal production and logging. In October, we distributed 65 kg of seed balls that were donated directly for MEP and in November we took part in an operation that distributed over one million seed balls in degraded parts of ecosystem. We also would be remiss not to mention KWS vet Dr. Limo and his team from the SWT Mara Mobile Vet Unit. Dr. Limo and company continue to be a consistent partner in the Mara to help us save elephant lives. Other exciting partnership developments in 2018 include the re-branding of our core funder, the ESCAPE Foundation to the Sidekick Foundation. They funded a film that continues to make waves here in Kenya called MABINGWA or The Champions. This movie, along with the groundbreaking research conducted by Well Told Story, illustrates and clearly explains the youth’s attitude toward wildlife and conservation in Kenya. We continue to be grateful to the Sidekick Foundation that has been supporting Mara Elephant Project since the beginning.
I can officially mark 2018 as the year where MEP raised the most money from organizations and individual donors. In February, we received the largest single donation ever, $350,000, from Karen Lo. MEP also received large individual donations from many involved supporters, and we were awarded grants by the OAK Foundation, the Angama Foundation, WildAid, TUSK Trust, Bently Foundation, Eden Wildlife Trust, and Asilia Giving. I am also always humbled by the support from grassroots donors on Facebook, Instagram and in fundraising efforts by Elephanatics and the students at Crooked Creek Elementary in Indianapolis in the United States. In terms of media, MEP hosted both Reuters and BBC for series that will air in 2019. We also were featured, thanks to Brett Velicovich, on Fox Businessand were featured twice on the popular animal website, The Dodo, as well as Wired UK. All of this was really great, but, possibly the greatest media exposure was when me and Tracking Manager Wilson Sairowua were asked to do interviews for a documentary that will air on Netflix in 2019 narrated by Sir. David Attenborough. I got to meet Sir David, who has been my hero since watching his documentary “Frogs” as a child. At 92 years old, he looked really good for his age and was as sharp and witty as he sounds on TV.
One of the more exciting announcements is the addition of Dr. Jake Wall as the director of research and conservation at MEP starting in 2019. We are all thrilled at MEP to have such a high caliber scientist join our organization. In 2018, MEP added Stanley Misoka to the team as our financial officer and MEP Trustee Colin Church was voted in as chairman and received an Order of the British Empire for his services to conservation, the environment and the community in Kenya. A great moment for all of MEP’s rangers was when one of their own, an intelligence ranger, was awarded the first annual African Ranger Award by Paradise Foundation International. He won $3,000 and we all traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to accept the award. Each ranger was presented with the award at the ceremony with Jack Ma in attendance, which was quite special.
I cannot thank every single supporter enough for their dedication to Mara Elephant Project. This is a passion of mine and I pledge to work really hard to continue to protect elephants and their habitats, but it simply would not be possible without the unwavering support from partners like KWS, NCG, conservancies and community in the Mara, Tanzania government agencies and, of course, our donors. We will continue to keep you up to date on the day-to-day operations of MEP as we continue to protect elephants to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem.
We have a big agenda for 2019 so please keep supporting and spreading the word about MEP!