Over the last three years in the Maasai Mara, as the number of elephants killed as a result of poaching has declined, conflict related deaths are on the rise. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is not only the greatest single threat to elephants but is also a major challenge to the livelihoods of those who live in close proximity to elephants. In 2010, only two elephants were killed as a result of HEC, in 2016 this number had increased to 14. MEP responded to 203 HEC incidents in 2018 and due to our efforts, the number of HEC-related elephant deaths was reduced to 12. It’s an increasingly difficult situation as farmers are losing whole fields of crops in a single night along with fences and maize barns that are destroyed.
MEP has found that by tracking the planting and maturation rate of crops in the Mara we can accurately predict what we call “harvest season,” a time period when elephants will be most interested in the ripened crops on farms. MEP has found that during planting times we’re not seeing as many HEC mitigation calls, but during harvest, they increase exponentially. Knowing this helps MEP understand when we’ll need more resources to respond to the increase in HEC.
When responding to human-elephant conflict, MEP rangers deploy flash bangs, bright lights and vehicles on the ground to move elephants out of communities and into safety.
As a preventative measure to deter elephants from entering communities and farms, flashing light fences are installed around farms during harvest time. MEP got the idea from predator conservation organizations that were using them with great success around bomas to keep cattle safe from lions. The fences involve using solar panels and lights all connected with cables and stuck on top of posts that are secured around the crops. The flashing lights are all solar powered, so they are able to recharge during the day to be used primarily at night when the majority of crop raiding occurs. The flashing light fences are a cheap and effective mitigation tool even compared to chili fences. The fences are installed by MEP rangers who were trained by Kenyan conservationist David Mascall, who has been installing Lion Entry Deterrent Lights for years with great success. Community members also help with installation and their only task after installation is to ensure the lights don’t get stolen, which they’ve reported is a much easier task than keeping elephants out of their farms.