Drones are a low-cost solution to mitigate conflict and to conduct aerial reconnaissance and field research in the Maasai Mara. Equipped with one drone per Mara Elephant Project ranger team, they allow our rangers to rapidly respond to effectively mitigate conflict and protect both elephants and people. Elephants when faced with a drone that sounds like a swarm of bees, quickly move out of an area, which quickly and effectively mitigates the conflict situation. Additionally, drones are an effective way to conduct aerial reconnaissance in dense forested areas like the Mau or Loita to root out illegal logging operations. The MEP Research Department can use drones for collecting data from the air, conduct an aerial census, and the long-term monitoring team can use them to capture identification photos of monitored elephants. In addition, they are effective at moving elephants out of densely forested areas when conducting collaring operations or when we support the Kenya Wildlife Service/Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with a veterinary treatment.
MEP has been deploying drones since 2014; however, because of government regulations our drone program was halted until recently. Now, we are legally able to operate drones in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. Training MEP staff to safely operate the drones is crucial for our organization.
In late March, a drone training lead by Expert Drones East Africa took place on MEP’s campus in the Maasai Mara and Mara Elephant Project rangers and research staff members participated. The two six-day training weeks covered navigation, meteorology, air law, flight planning and more. In the training they were taught theory in and around flight operations using the (UAS) Unmanned Aviation System. This included sections on air law, weather, safety and security. They also had hands-on practical training on how to fly and understand all the safety procedures while handling the drone. They then finished with exams.
We’re happy to say that MEP rangers and staff are now successfully graduated from the program and have received their remote pilots’ licenses. Congratulations to Wilson Sairowua, David Kimanzi, Abigael Pertet, Vincent Lenkoko, Jackson Maitai, Augustine Kantai, Caren Yegon, Stanley Momposhi, Felix Yiaile, Lesikar Koyie, Purity Masuntu, Edward Kuyo, Cosmass Bett, Francis Muli and Jake Wall. Additionally, five of the staff were identified by the drone trainer Tobias Ogeto to be exceptional and it was recommended that they receive more training in the future to get their instructor’s license.
Our long-time partner Elephant Cooperation supported a portion of this training because they are interested in investing in the future generation of Kenyan conservationists. It’s very fitting that the Earth Day theme this year is “Invest In Our Planet”, because MEP believes in investing in the people of our planet to protect it, and we’re very fortunate to have Elephant Cooperation as a partner for this. If you’re also interested in investing in training for our staff, please support our efforts by donating today.