Human-elephant conflict (HEC) occurs when people and wildlife compete for space and resources. HEC is on the rise as the space in the Mara diminishes and the population continues to increase. In the Kenya portion of the ecosystem (the Maasai Mara and surrounding areas), people and wildlife peacefully co-existed for years when space for both did not overlap. Up until the 1950s, the ecosystem had a very small human population living in the area, but as the human population has grown, the rangeland demand for livestock and farming has increased, pushing wild animals into smaller areas. In 2015, it was reported that the human population around the Maasai Mara was growing at 10.5% per annum, more than three times the national rate of 2.5% (Courtney et al.).
Outside of protected land, individual Maasai landowners have parcels of land, which range in sizes of approximately 20 to 200 acres that are often fenced, which fragments the ecosystem, and blocks key wildlife migration routes (corridors). On these parcels of land people often grow maize, tomatoes or use it for grazing large herds of cattle. When elephants encounter farms, the temptation to consume a large amount of calories in a small space is almost too much and they can eat a farmer’s entire field of crops in one night, thus destroying his livelihood.
Farmers and communities who have damage to either their fields, fences or livestock often retaliate by shooting arrows or throwing spears at elephants to move them out of their land.
When arrows and spears are used by communities to move elephants out of farms, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mara Mobile Vet Unit is called in and Kenya Wildlife Service Vet Dr. Limo performs surgery. In this event, MEP rangers assist with elephant treatments when the situation arises.
In response to an increase in human-elephant conflict, MEP has developed a toolkit of best practices for mitigating human-elephant conflict. The Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter has enabled MEP to increase our rapid response time and quickly and effectively mitigate human-elephant conflict situations. Additionally, MEP rangers deploy flash bangs, bright lights and vehicles to move elephants out of farms and into safety and flashing light fences are used to deter elephants from entering farms and to alert MEP rangers and communities to an elephants nearby presence. Finally, community engagement and education is essential to everyone co-existing harmoniously in the Mara.