Mara Elephant Project has been developing our drone program since September 2012 when CEO Marc Goss bought a simple (unmanned aerial vehicle) UAV to test in the Mara. What he discovered was that when we flew it toward some elephants the effect was startling; the whole herd bunched up and ran away from the noise of the UAV. In just a short time UAV technology improved so fast that field use became a reality.
Once deployed in the field, we discovered that drones were a cheap and effective technology for rangers to use. The UAVs were a combination of portable, easy to operate and effective as a tactic rangers could use to move elephants out of unwanted areas. The sound of a flying UAV, similar to a swarm of bees, elicits an immediate flight response from elephants. We then use them to chivvy the family of elephants back to safety.
MEP started a training program for rangers to safely mitigate human-elephant conflict in Tanzania with the support of Lori Price while Kenya was still sorting out the drone regulations (pictured left). The curriculum was designed so that rangers could pick up the necessary skills to safely and effectively fly drones as a tool to push elephants out of community land. At the time, MEP trained eight of our rangers to fly drones, creating a core group of rangers that were able to fly and maintain them in the field. MEP also has a “Drone Flying Manual” that has allowed us to take the knowledge we have using drones to combat human-elephant conflict and share it with other organizations in Africa.
A picture from 2013 of MEP rangers repairing drones onsite after field use.
Our program was halted when, in 2014, Kenya instituted a ban on the use of UAVs which put us on hold until late 2017 when the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) approved Marc Goss a license to operate two UAVs in the field. This, however, was grounded again in 2018 when the KCAA announced a nationwide stop to operating all drones until the legislations was again amended.
We are excited to announce that in July 2020, MEP CEO Marc Goss received approval from the KCAA and Ministry of Defense to once again legally fly drones in order to mitigate conflict in the areas surrounding the Mara.
The approval for MEP is for a period of one year and will help us characterize the effectiveness of UAVs in mitigating human-elephant conflict and allow us to run some demonstrations for our conservation partners and showcase this work publicly. What we need to work on now is getting further permits for our rangers to be able to fly as well. We would also like to further explore UAV use for other applications such as mapping, census work, habitat monitoring and security tasks. However, being granted this permission to fly drones to mitigate conflict is a big boost for MEP.