The year began by deploying two new elephant collars onto one female and one male elephant (Gina and Dicki) in the Shimba/Mwaluganje ecosystem. The Shimba elephants were badly affected by poaching in the last decade and reconnaissance of the area conducted with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) indicates poaching is still an issue. Little is known about their current distribution and range, which is why at the request of KWS, MEP deployed two collars in January to help give us an idea as to where these elephants are traveling and how they are using the ecosystem.
Dr. Jake Wall and KWS Veterinarian Dr. Michael Njoroge in Shimba Hills collaring the female candidate in early January.
MEP’s collared elephant Ivy, one of our biggest crop raiders, started 2020 by spending her time around MEP HQ with her herd and by March, was discovered to have given birth to a brand-new baby calf. Ivy’s collar triggered a low speed alert over a 24-hour period and the helicopter was deployed to check on her. She was tracked to a heavily wooded area of the Mara where she emerged with a new female calf. Both mother and baby appear to be doing well (pictured left). Unfortunately, in March, MEP collared elephant Namunyak passed away from natural causes. An autopsy conducted by the KWS veterinarian showed an internal abscess on her spleen which caused an embolism, a natural death from a health defect. Namunyak was originally collared in Olarro Conservancy in January 2016 with support from World Wildlife Fund and she and her herd spent most of their time between the Olarro and Siana conservancies.
MEP collared Namunyak with her herd of 30 observed on the ground by MEP rangers in February before her passing.
MEP collared elephant Fitz and his herd of 65 in the Nyakweri Forest spent their days in the forest and then moved into farmland at night. They were responsible for a large conflict incident on January 31 that caused the death of a community member and required regular MEP ranger intervention throughout the first quarter. The research team also observed that Shorty in the Serengeti and Kiambi in the conservancies are both in musth and moving quickly over long distances. The MEP team in Kericho spent a week in the Marmanet Forest monitoring Vasco after an aerial monitoring flight discovered the need for more protection. Chelsea was monitored on the ground by the Siana team and the herd size was reported to be more than 60 elephants and Hannibal and Napoleon continue to move together (pictured above).
Vasco and his herd photographed from the helicopter during the monitoring flight.
Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 caused MEP research to slow its field work from March onwards. However, with fewer meetings and field operations we’ve also had the opportunity to focus on streamlining our data collection and reporting workflows using EarthRanger. MEP now has fifteen types of field events and corresponding field forms that are recorded by our rangers during their operations. The event forms, such as snare reports or human-elephant conflict reports, are allowing us to monitor key metrics such as levels of poaching or conflict hotspots. We employ both inReach satellite tracking devices as well as a new Android mobile app called ‘Roam’ to track our ranger teams and vehicles in near real-time. The EarthRanger system makes collection of these data straightforward and it also has a powerful interface to watch the data feeds either on the big screen at MEP HQ or on our phones while out in the field. The MEP research team recently also developed software to download EarthRanger data to automatically generate reports and data visualizations and is continuing to improve on these systems and share them with other conservation groups.
Our research team has been actively developing the landscape dynamics database by mapping missing spatial features and collecting more fence line data. A new MEP research field assistant, David Marima, started in February and was tasked with collecting ground truth points for landcover mapping. The research team is also working on developing an agricultural layer and land cover map in conjunction with researchers at Grumeti. We developed an Android based app called ‘Njia’ to facilitate the field data collection.
MEP’s research team spent considerable time in the first quarter working on outputs for the Narok County Government Spatial Plan. These include elephant range maps, a speed map, a conflict and carcass map and a connectivity index map that quantifies how every part of an animal’s range is connected to other parts of its range. We hope these outputs will help inform future land-use planning within the county.