MEP Collars New Elephant In Response to HEC

Mara Elephant Project strives to immediately respond to human-elephant conflict (HEC) in multiple capacities. One, we respond to mitigate HEC using our rapid response ranger units with vehicles using flashbangs. Two, we use our Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter to rapidly push elephants out of farmland to keep both them and the people safe. Finally, we collar elephant candidates that will gather useful spatial data meaning elephants in border areas, areas of conflict or areas outside conservancies or national reserves. We are always looking for candidates that represent crop raiding elephants identified across the dispersal area and candidates that represent large herds. The collared elephants in most cases represents a whole herd that may be at risk. So, when an opportunity to collar an elephant that has been involved in an HEC incident presents itself, MEP always jumps at the opportunity to collar and collect essential data on this elephant.

The large bull in Olarro Siana. 

This was the case on November 10, when a large bull in Olarro Siana that we believe was involved with the little girl’s injuries the previous week, needed treatment for a spear wound he received during that altercation. Olarro Conservancy rangers found this wounded bull and called in Dr. Limo from the Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS)/David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) mobile vet unit. Dr. Limo determined that it appeared to be spear wound that fortunately had not penetrated the stomach wall so the elephant’s chances of recovery were favorable.

Dr. Limo with MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss using the aerial advantage of the helicopter to dart the large bull. 

The treatment of this elephant by one of MEP’s partners presented a great opportunity for MEP to collar a new elephant that was considered a high HEC risk and was a bull elephant with a known track record of causing problem with the community.

Dr. Limo treating the injured bull elephant. 

The treatment of the bull’s wounds and collaring him was a successful operation. Now, MEP rangers can monitor all the elephant’s positions on georeferenced Google Earth maps from MEP headquarters and any potential threats are relayed to the rapid response teams and patrol teams. The collar software also includes alarms for immobility, geofence breaches and streaks (when an elephant moves quickly potentially signifying it is in danger) which MEP reacts to at a moment’s notice. Through all of this monitoring, MEP generates monthly tracking reports, constructs density and movement maps, with partner Save the Elephants, and populates a shared geofence database. Each day coordinates are sent to ground patrols who use these to check on the elephants. Depending on the satellite image quality, it is possible to see settlements near the collared elephant. This information is used to anticipate possible human-elephant conflict incidents and intervene before it occurs.

The bull elephant after waking up with his injury treated and his new collar. 

The data collected from this bull’s collar will be the single best indicator for identifying elephant density hotspots, defining corridors, and illustrating elephant movements to target audiences. Combined data from a sample number of elephant collars spread across the elephant population present an accurate extent of the current elephant rangeland. To date, this data has been used to deploy rapid response units and help MEP develop maps illustrating the density and movement of elephants. We use these maps internally to inform our area of operation and externally as part of the quantifiable data for the Narok County Spatial Plan. More specifically, plans which incorporate “space” or “areas” of land which are currently used by elephants and wildlife, historically used, and build a case for important space for elephants and wildlife in the future. The ongoing collection of data and further analysis will be undertaken to provide the evidence underpinning the communications and advocacy efforts of the organization to protect this critical habitat into the future.

Everyone working together to get the elephant treated and collared. 

The new elephant is named Lempiris, which means “blessed” in Maasai and was named by the community with input from Gini Cowell from Elephant Aware, an organization upheld by passionate and dedicated individuals within Maasai communities who are committed to the protection and conservation of elephants and all wildlife. She had been monitoring this particular bull for a number of years.

MEP is also testing a new collar with Lempiris. This particular collar has an iridium and solar GSM unit to cut down on the overall weight. In addition it sits under the neck instead of on top so we’ll be testing to see if it can transmit a strong enough signal from under the neck.

The extent of the teamwork involved in operations like this one. 

Continuing the funding of the MEP collaring program will allow us to continue to monitor and collect essential data to secure a future for both elephants and people in the greater Mara ecosystem. The collar and treatment of this bull elephant just highlights how essential key partnerships are for MEP’s successful operations.