MEP evaluates data to produce outputs like maps, charts and situation reports all to illustrate our patrol efforts and measure our impact. This data is used to build upon MEP’s influence with partners and stakeholders.
The effort to do this rests with the Mara Elephant Project Research Department led by MEP’s Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall. The MEP applied research agenda aims to enhance the protection of elephants and the habitat upon which they and other wildlife depend.
The data collected and evaluated from collared elephants is the single best indicator for identifying elephant density hotspots, defining critical habitat and corridors, and illustrating elephant movements to target audiences. Combined data from a sample number of elephant collars spread across the elephant population present an accurate extent of the current elephant range in the GME. To date, this data has been used to deploy rapid response units and help MEP develop maps illustrating the density and movement of elephants. We use these maps internally to inform our area of operation and externally as part of the quantifiable data for the Narok County Spatial Plan. More specifically, plans which incorporate “space” or “areas” of land which are currently used by elephants and wildlife, historically used, and build a case for important space for elephants and wildlife in the future.
"We’re actually trying to prove: are we having a lasting effect? Are elephants coming straight back to this area? What are we going to do in the long term to secure that area?"CEO Marc Goss
MEP is focused on increasing the amount of demographic data it is collecting on the Mara elephant population. In 2021, the MEP Research Department launched a long-term monitoring (LTM) team that is tasked with gathering individual based sightings and re-identification of elephants across the Mara, and ground-based census of elephants along fixed routes within the conservancies and protected areas. The long-term monitoring of elephant populations is used to collect important information about demographics to help our organization grow our database of known elephant individuals. Information like overall population size, age and sex structure, births, deaths, injury and disease rates help us better understand the elephant population in the Greater Mara Ecosystem (GME). Additionally, monitoring individual elephants over time by re-sighting the same individuals is an important part of behavioral research. It can help us better understand habitat preference and identify crop-raiding elephants by monitoring injuries and look for other signs of conflict. The MEP LTM team is also gathering data that establishes the relative density and distribution of elephants in relation to season, livestock and other factors affecting the spatial distribution of elephants across the ecosystem. Although collar data provides very granular and detailed observation of a small number of individual elephants, regular elephant census will provide a more general overview of what the population is doing as a whole.
"One of the things that we want to try to move towards is human-elephant co-existence. One of our big goals is to come up with strategies for how elephants and people could live together."Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall
Concomitantly, we are collecting information about the set of factors believed to influence elephant movement, such as vegetation, terrain, water availability and the level of human presence as observed by road and settlement densities, so that we can analyze movement in relation to these covariates. Our study, led by Dr. Jake Wall will help to answer questions about the why, where and when of Mara elephant spatial behavior.
Graeme Purdy Photography
Applied conservation research on elephants, especially when combined with data from other wildlife, will help MEP along with government partners, KWS, Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), Narok County Government (NCG) and Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) to inform future spatial ecosystem plans that protect the Mara’s ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.