MEP October Report – Urgency in Loita

In October, a traditionally low human-elephant conflict season, MEP was able to channel our rapid response unit’s time into the Loita Hills area of the greater Mara ecosystem. On October 15, the rapid response team found a dead elephant with tusks hacked out in the Naasoroa-Engata Entirit area north of the Loita Hills forest (pictured left). We received intelligence from informants in the area and decided to go and have a look for ourselves to investigate. After a number of ground patrols, the team found a carcass of a poached elephant which had been concealed with cut branches.

In addition to this alarming discovery, in the last two months we have experienced a number of mysterious elephant deaths, meaning deaths with no apparent cause in this area. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) vet, Dr. Limo, conducted autopsies on all of the carcasses and submitted samples to the KWS lab, but we have not heard back as they are swamped with samples connected to court cases. So, this leaves us with little else to do but assume poisoning until proven otherwise. What’s interesting is that maize is not in season; however, tomatoes are a popular crop in this area due to the elevation. Our rapid response unit found very strong pesticides being used in the Loita area on tomatoes which could be potentially fatal if elephants ate them immediately after the pesticide was applied.

Farms encroaching on the Loita Hills forest including tomatoes, which grow well at higher elevations.

Finally, it’s not just poaching, and poisoning MEP is responding to in this area. There are a number of other illegal activities they’ve uncovered since being deployed including illegal logging and charcoal production. Since moving into the area at the first of October, MEP along with Kenya Wildlife Service has arrested seven people (one arrest pictured right) and recovered over 1,000 posts of illegally procured cedar. Mara Elephant Project has been able to turn this negative into a positive by donating these cedar wood posts to two local primary schools so that they can build wildlife proof fences around their schoolyard. MEP required that the Headmaster of each school sign an agreement that the posts would only be used for this purpose.

An illegal logging operation in the Loita Hills area. 

Posts being dropped off at a local primary school.

The MEP rapid response unit has not left this area since the first of October and what’s worrisome about the high number of illegal activities is that a mega herd of elephants was found by our team near Naroosura. They all have been working flat-out and will continue to operate and secure the area; however, all of this clearly indicates a need for a permanent presence of a multi-agency team in this area, which we hope to secure funding for soon.

A large herd of elephants found from the air near the illegal activities in the Loita Hills area.

The Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter continues to be such a vital asset to our organization. In October, we flew 31 hours total, which is over our normal 30-hour a month allotment, but this was necessary. The poaching incident and the suspected poisoning warranted some area reconnaissance that is normally not part of our monthly flight time. This reconnaissance ended up being vital as we were able to identify a large herd of elephants’ location in the Loita Forest, an active poacher’s camp, illegal mining activities, illegal cedar logging operations and illegal charcoal making operations that then helped us mobilize our team to respond to and shutdown.

MEP Senior Warden James Ekiru checking out an area near the river in the Loita area where elephants are walking from the hills through the farms to access.

Ekiru doing aerial surveillance in the Loita area looking for poachers camps and illegal logging or charcoal activity.

The helicopter was also used during an intense situation on October 28 when a mob of youth were attacking a herd of elephants in community land across the Mara River from the Mara North Conservancy. The helicopter was instrumental in moving this herd out of a lethal situation.

In October, we also used the helicopter to distribute seed balls in a remote deforested area that was wrecked from charcoal production. We distributed over 65 kg of seed balls that were donated by Seedballs Kenya through their fundraising campaign for MEP. MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss visited Karsten Ree in Denmark the first week of October and we are pleased to announce that Karsten has committed to purchasing a new helicopter for MEP in 2019! His continued support of our program is unmatched, and we cannot thank him enough for giving us the use of this vital tool.

Overall, the theme for October is that there is an increased insecurity for elephants in the Mara. The recent poaching case in the Loita area, the ongoing mysterious deaths of elephants in the northern portion of the Mara, and the continued conflict that seems to be getting more aggressive all leads to a second month in a row where we’ve had to report high death rates for elephants. Last month we reported seven elephant carcasses and this month, unfortunately, we report five dead elephants. While MEP’s presence still has a positive impact on elephant security, being the only boots on the ground organization working the Mara to protect elephants, means that our resources are stretched to the max and we hope with your support in 2019 we can expand our area of operation to ensure that the Mara ecosystem is not a friendly place for these illegal activities.

MEP Monthly Report October 2018

This is why current support from organizations is so key to ensuring elephants continue to be protected in the Mara. In October, we received the first annual donation of $100,000 from the Oak Foundation to support the core activities of MEP and the full funding from the Bently Foundation for our grant request of $31,540 to support ranger training and equipment. We can’t wait to bring you an update on how that money is being put to good use. We also received a donation of $8,380.95 from advocacy group Elephanatics from their fundraiser they hosted in early October! They are a continuous supporter of our organization and this is their largest yearly donation to date! We are so thrilled with the support they received at their event and thank everyone who donated. Thank you to Lisa for her birthday fundraiser on Facebook that raised $160! We also had a total of $110 in donations come in from Facebook in October and $3,375 through Paypal. Thank you to everyone for their continued support!

Two supporters who attended Elephanatics Pub Night in early October. 

Finally, continuing on a good note. Both MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss 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. It was an honor for Marc to meet Sir David (pictured left) as he has been a hero of his 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. Marc especially liked the story he told over tea about mating goliath slugs. It was a true bucket list moment for Marc as, “he is probably the highest ranked living person to meet on my bucket list.” Wilson’s interview, which they were extremely impressed with, clearly communicated a Maasai’s perspective to conservation. The full-length documentary on the last great plains will feature MEP’s point of view on the issues we experience with regard to encroachment, local ecological safeguards, how to pay more for conservation and will hopefully bring more attention to MEP and the work being done to protect the Mara. The short pieces we hope will also illustrate some of the more immediate needs and issues surrounding wildlife conservation.

Wilson being interviewed for the Netflix documentary.