Mara Elephant Project ended the fourth quarter of 2018 with many exciting fundraising announcements, a big ivory bust and MEP rangers, along with government partners Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Narok County Government (NCG), continue to have success in the field. I visited with a major MEP supporter, Karsten Ree, in Denmark the first week of October and was pleased that Karsten will help MEP navigate trading in our current R44 Robinson Helicopter for a new one 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.
The Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter continues to be an asset that directly contributes to MEP’s success in the Mara. In October, the helicopter was vital to conducting reconnaissance in the Loita area of the Mara ecosystem. We were able to spot and note locations of poacher’s camps, illegal logging, mining and charcoal production sites and spotted a large herd (over 100) of elephants in the Loita Hills near all of this illegal activity.
The large herd of elephants spotted in the Loita Hills.
In November, the helicopter was directly responsible for finding and disrupting a commercial bushmeat operation near Naarosora. I was piloting the helicopter and was joined by Sidekick Foundation’s Executive Director Brian Kearney-Grieve when we spotted poachers butchering two zebras in an open field (pictured left). They circled back around, and the culprits quickly ran to a nearby watercourse and could not be located. We landed the helicopter to collect evidence at the scene of the crime and MEP sent in the Naaroosora ranger unit to follow up on the ground.
One of the more helpful uses for the helicopter is that it allows MEP, operating the only helicopter dedicated to wildlife in the Mara, to assist our partners. In November, we flew over 10 hours for Mara Conservancy, which manages the Triangle, to aerially monitor and track rhinos in the Reserve and Triangle. We are pleased to have been a great help to them. The MEP helicopter also contributed aerial support to our partner KWS Vet Dr. Limo with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mara Mobile Vet Unit for elephant treatments.
Dr. Limo working on a young elephant with 20 arrow wounds.
We also used the helicopter to experiment with dropping seed balls from our partner, Seedballs Kenya, in a remote deforested area in the Mara in October then in November collaborated again with Seedballs Kenya to distribute one million seed balls in the Mara in just one day.The helicopter was also useful this quarter when a MEP ranger in the DSWT Mau De-Snaring Unit cut his leg while using a machete in the thick Mau Forest. Due to the remote location, the helicopter was essential for transporting him quickly to a hospital for treatment. We’re happy to report, he will make a full recovery and be back on patrol soon.
MEP’s rangers have been very busy in the fourth quarter with mitigating human-elephant conflict and continuing to combat the poaching and other illegal activities taking place in our two expanded areas of operation: the Mau Forest and Loita Hills. In December we had the single largest ivory recovery of 2018. Two suspects were arrested in the Loita area by KWS and MEP rangers in possession of two large tusks weighing 69 kg and were taken to Narok Police Station. This is a great success to close out 2018.
Two suspects arrested with 69 kg of ivory.
In the fourth quarter, MEP’s rangers, along with government partners KWS and NCG, have:
- arrested eight poachers
- seized 72 kg of ivory
- responded to 42 incidents of human-elephant conflict
- removed 102 snares
- shutdown five illegal logging sites
- arrested 10 illegal logging suspects
- destroyed nine kilns
- confiscated 8 sacks of charcoal
- seized 9 kg of bushmeat
- arrested four suspected bushmeat poachers
The DSWT Mau De-Snaring Unit destroying a charcoal kiln in December.
The MEP office continues to come along since we moved in during the second quarter of 2018. In November, we purchased a 65” screen monitor for the command center. This is proving very helpful in our morning commander’s briefings as we are all able to see on the screen all of our tracked assets in near real time. The InReach devices, which we now have for every patrol team, update every 10 minutes so it has been very interesting for leadership at HQ to monitor the daily patrols and guide each team’s activities in real time. Speaking of collared elephant movements, we were upset to find that collared elephant Julia, who was collared in March 2018, had dropped her collar on Nov. 19 (pictured right). Julia’s collar was the new thinner belt design by our collar manufacturer and unfortunately, this new design has proven ineffective as the three elephants that used the new-collar design all had collars drop. Since this, MEP is no longer using these types of collars and has upgraded to Kevlar, which so far, is proving more effective. During an aerial patrol in December in the Loita area, we very coincidentally located Amare with her collar still on. This was good news as we can now discontinue our search for it at the bottom of a small lake; however, it does mean that the collar failed and will need to be replaced. World Wildlife Fund collared elephant “Alina” dropped her collar by the Kenya – Tanzania border near the Sand River and we collected it and took it back to the MEP HQ.
On November 9, we held our MEP Trust AGM and board meeting in Nairobi. At the AGM we conducted our obligations to the trust including approving audited accounts, appointing new auditors, and reaffirming officer positions and committees. At the board meeting we reviewed and approved the 2019 Operational Plan and Budget, introduced MEP Financial Officer Stanley Misoka and Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall to the board, reviewed the Elephant Technical Report draft and reviewed the management accounts. In addition, on the 7th of November, MEP presented at the KWS National Elephant Action Plan quarterly committee meeting in Nakuru. It was a good chance to hear about elephants from all stations across the province and was a valuable exercise for our organization. We plan to continue the quarterly meetings with KWS on this in 2019.
I’d like to end the fourth quarter of 2018 update with a very exciting day. Both myself 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 to meet Sir David as he has been a hero of mine 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. I especially liked the story he told over tea about mating goliath slugs. In addition, 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. Finally, read about my thoughts on MEP in 2018 and what we have to look forward to in 2019 with your support!