Applied Research

The data collected from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and MEP’s elephant collars 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 Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. 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?” Marc Goss, MEP CEO

The ongoing collection of data and further analysis must continue to provide the evidence underpinning the communications and advocacy efforts of the organization to protect this critical habitat into the future. Not only for elephants, but all wildlife that are represented by this umbrella species. The effort to do this rests with the Mara Elephant Project Research Department lead 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 key datasets used fulfill our research objectives include high-resolution GPS tracking data collected by current and future GPS collars; distribution data as recorded by fixed-wing aerial census; high-resolution satellite imagery to map landcover; ground-truth information and spatial layer collection by a research assistant using a research vehicle.

MEP produces an Individual Collared Elephant Report that documents in detail the movement patterns of the over 50 elephants that MEP has tracked since 2011 up until the end of 2019. The report contains a biography, photo ID, wet and dry season home-range maps and statistics plus a movement map and statistics for each elephant. It also provides an estimation of the extent to which each elephant has been crop raiding and how they distribute their time across the landscape, both inside and outside of protected areas. The report generation is almost fully automated using the Python coding language and MEP repeats it annually. MEP is focused on increasing the amount of demographic data it is collecting on the Mara elephant population.

A landcover map being developed by MEP and researchers from Colorado State and University of California Davis. The map is based on satellite imagery and can detect different habitat types and where crops are planted. This will help map expanding agriculture and investigate how elephants are responding to that.

We would like to continue the work started by Dr. Joyce Poole and extend the ElephantVoices individual ID database by establishing a long-term elephant monitoring program. Individual ID studies can provide critical insight into population structure (e.g., total population numbers, sex ratios and age structure), social behavior, and act as an early warning system for increased levels of poaching or HWC. 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.

“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.” Dr. Jake Wall, MEP Director of Research and Conservation

Applied conservation research on elephants, especially when combined with data from other wildlife, will help MEP along with government partners, KWS and Narok County Government (NCG), to inform future spatial ecosystem plans that protect the Mara’s ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.