Aoife and her boyfriend James were visiting the Mara from Ireland and had the opportunity to visit MEP HQ in Kenya while staying at its partner, Richard’s Camp.
Here are Aoife’s thoughts on her time in the Mara.
Having never been anywhere remotely similar to the Mara I didn’t really know what to expect. Travelling from Ireland to somewhere so far away and different was an exciting opportunity for me to invest my time in the conservation efforts of MEP and learn about the community engagement of Richard’s Camp.
Everything about Africa appealed to me; the weather, the wildlife, the food, the culture and especially the people. Experiencing life somewhere like the Mara was something a person only dreams of and fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to visit.
We arrived at Mara Elephant Project after spending a week at Richard’s River Camp, one of MEP’s partners. The week at Richard’s Camp was filled with all sorts of adventure including safaris and bush dinners where you’re dining out in the middle of the Mara! It was also a week a student of psychology dreams of; getting to meet local Maasai who work at Richard’s Camp and experience what their life is like in the Mara. The staff and myself bonded over singing, cultural jokes (They found my Irish freckles and sunburn quite funny), and learning each other’s quirky sayings.
Richard’s Camp owner, Richard Roberts, is a native Kenyan and one of the founders of MEP. His dedication to Kenya’s well being and the conservation of its precious wildlife was truly inspiring.
We were lucky enough to travel from Richard’s Camp by plane to MEP HQ where we got to see a bird’s eye view of the animals, sunset and beautiful African plains. It was breathtaking and somehow magically topped off by Michael Jackson playing in the background, surreal to say the least.
James and I arrived at MEP HQ to learn about the conservation work MEP was doing in the Mara. We were especially interested in the rangers that worked for MEP. We found that the job of a MEP ranger was to use all of the tools in MEP’s HEC Toolkit to prevent human-elephant conflict. This entails aiding the elephants while protecting local farmer’s crops. We were able to see what it was like working in the MEP office, a metal container, to design geo-fences for the proximity of the Mara North Conservancy using Google Maps; which alerts rangers by SMS if an elephant collared by MEP entered settlement areas or farmland. The ranger’s efficiency and passion for the wellbeing of elephants was really remarkable to witness.
Unfortunately, one of the elephants I was able to observe, Bobo, died while I was visiting MEP. He entered farmland and was speared for eating the crops. This news was devastating for all and hard to absorb. For me, personally getting to know Bobo in such a short amount of time, and seeing the devastation that can come from the deaths of these giant magnificent creatures that are so precious to the ecosystem was really profound.
Living in Ireland and being so far removed from Kenya’s animals, I would often hear of the horrendous acts of poachers from the news or on social media, and would always be saddened by it. Now, however, from my experience at MEP and being in Africa it’s really hit home for me.
It is not ‘just one elephant,’ it is hundreds, maybe even thousands. That ‘one’ elephant, Bobo, had a family. He had a life and had people at MEP working to protect him from harm, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.
Not only has my visit to Mara Elephant Project opened my eyes to the beauty of Africa and it’s wildlife, but it’s taught me how to stay dry in the depths of the savannah when exposed to more rain then I could possibly imagine (and I’m from Ireland!). What makes Africa so magical is the extremes and true wildness you feel when you are there.
MEP has shown me the importance of protecting Africa’s animals and the importance of educating and working with the surrounding communities to reduce human – elephant conflict. Simple things like having wildlife lessons introduced to local school’s curriculum, building inexpensive chilly fences and cooperating with local farmers the people at Mara Elephant Project are making a difference. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this firsthand and make some small contribution. My time in the Mara will never be topped or forgotten and to those that made it so special, I thank you.