EarthRanger is a specialized conservation software that collects information in real time from all of MEP’s assets including rangers, vehicles, cameras and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) elephant collars that we quickly analyze and use to react.
“We’re tracking elephants, rangers, vehicles, helicopters and so on. Providing tools that can then grab the data in real time and visualize where everyone is. So, that gives us real-time insight.” Dr. Jake Wall, MEP Director of Research and Conservation
Co-developed by MEP’s Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall, Save the Elephants and Allen Institute for AI (AI2, formerly Vulcan Inc.), all of MEP’s data is stored in a secure cloud platform and readily accessible to visualize through the app, Google Earth or downloaded for further analysis within GIS software. MEP’s EarthRanger software is also being used in collaboration with other organizations that share a similar mission and by using a common platform, it promotes collaborations with other research groups to find solutions that benefit the GME.
“Using EarthRanger as our primary data collection and storage tool will help us toward our long-term goal of protecting elephants and their environment and will promote research, collaborations with other organizations and data-driven conservation.” Dr. Jake Wall
Looking ahead, the MEP research department continues to improve upon MEP’s EarthRanger system. We are now using the automated ‘GLAD’ forest-loss detection system developed by the University of Maryland, and recently integrated into EarthRanger, to detect forest loss events and respond to these in near real-time by sending our helicopter or ranger teams to investigate. Additionally, Dr. Wall has started developing an open-source data analysis tool for producing automated outputs of all of the data collected in EarthRanger that can be used in papers, reports or for external communications. Many of these advances were made possible thanks to support from AI2, Esri, the Microsoft AI for Earth program and Smithsonian Institute.
Since 2011, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) and MEP have collared over 50 flagship elephants across threatened ecosystems. A long-term collaboration between KWS, WRTI and MEP informs elephant collaring operations to understand habitat connectivity, resource allocation, conflict mitigation and elephant protection.
“We are putting collars on these elephants with KWS and WRTI so we know where the elephant is, because it’s overlaid onto Google Earth. The collars also have built-in software that if they stop we get immobility alerts.” Marc Goss, CEO, Mara Elephant Project
When collaring, KWS, WRTI and MEP focus on candidates that will gather useful spatial data meaning elephants in border areas, areas of conflict or areas outside conservancies or national reserves. We are also looking for candidates that represent crop raiding elephants identified across the dispersal area and candidates that represent large herds. The collared elephants in most cases represents a whole herd that may be at risk.
KWS, WRTI and MEP monitor elephants in real-time daily. MEP’s EarthRanger tracking platform can detect when an elephant becomes immobile, breaches a geo-fence, or starts to move slowly which could indicate an injury or illness. These alerts allow MEP to react at a moment’s notice. Ground patrol ranger units are sent coordinates daily that they use to monitor the collared elephants and it’s possible to see settlements near a collared elephant, which is used to anticipate possible human-elephant conflict incidents and intervene before they occur. MEP also has an extensive geo-fence database, which acts as a warning system for collared elephants when they near settlement areas or farms.
All managers and officers at MEP are equipped with iPhones and the Save The Elephants Tracking App for iOS – a specialized and secure platform for visualizing real time elephant movement within EarthRanger.
“We have the app on our phones. If an elephant is not moving, we get an immobility alert message, that is when we deploy our rangers.” Wilson Sairowua, MEP Conservation Officer
The app also quickly highlights streaks, day and night movements and has a comprehensive base map. Managers can now easily relay coordinates to field teams and track the elephants on the ground and by air to keep them safe.
KWS, WRTI and MEP collared elephants provide data that is being used daily to mitigate human-elephant conflict, inform ranger deployment and anti-poaching work, and promote transboundary cooperation within the wider ecosystem. The data collected from collared elephants is used to generate monthly tracking reports and density and movement maps to better understand elephant movement patterns and behavior. The collar data is also building up a valuable database on the spatial movements and resource selection of elephants. Particularly useful are longitudinal datasets that can show changes in movements over time in response to changing environmental and anthropogenic conditions. A total of 30 elephants with active collars are needed in the GME to provide the data needed to ensure KWS, WRTI and MEP’s protection and safety of the elephants either from poaching or human-elephant conflict. This number of active collars also provides a statistically viable sample for understanding elephant range, identifying corridors and assessing the connectivity and changes in elephant movement across the landscape. This is why KWS, WRTI and MEP continue to collar.
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.
Since 2015, thanks to the generosity of the Karen Blixen Camp Trust (KBCT), Mara Elephant Project operates the only helicopter dedicated to wildlife in the Mara. Piloted by CEO Marc Goss, the helicopter monitors and protects wildlife and wild spaces in the Mara.
It’s used for …
- Aerial Reconnaissance: These aerial reconnaissance missions are used to spot illegal logging and charcoal operations or a poacher’s camp from the air then relay the coordinates to the ranger team on the ground for them to pursue.
- Monitoring of Collared Elephants: We regularly monitor KWS and MEP’s collared elephants by air to check on their well-being and the overall health of their herd. Through the aerial monitoring program, we have identified the collared elephants represent between 400 and 600 elephants.
- Conflict Mitigation: The helicopter works extremely well to mitigate conflict when used alongside our rangers on the ground, who are our first line of defense. It also has the advantage of increasing the rapid response time to conflict, when the terrain is difficult, and expanding our operational area thanks to the helicopter’s ability to traverse a large area in a short period of time.
- Building Partnerships: Since MEP has the only operating helicopter dedicated to wildlife in the Mara, it is essential not only for us, but for our partners, like Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). KWS Vet Dr. Limo performs most of the elephant treatments in the Mara and MEP provides both aerial and ground support to Dr. Limo’s team ensuring the elephant treatment is safe for personnel and the animal being treated. Additionally, locating an injured elephant from the air improves response time to treat the injured elephant and can often spot an injury in otherwise impossible circumstances like thick vegetation. The helicopter is also effective at dropping seed balls from Seedballs Kenya, our partners who join us to cover a large area in need of reforestation.
- Other Wildlife: MEP’s helicopter is also used to assist other wildlife living in the Mara. The helicopter has been used to gather information on the critically endangered mountain bongo antelope living in the Mau Forest, it’s been used to assist with treatments of lions, giraffes, buffalo and rhino as well as to investigate the cause of death of various other wildlife and to complete well-being checks on the endangered black rhino. It’s had baby elephant passengers on their way to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage and a vulture on the way for treatment after a poisoning incident.
- Collaring Operations: The MEP helicopter is an essential element to the KWS and MEP elephant collaring operations ensuring both our personnel and the elephant are safe while deploying the collar.
Saving Lives: The helicopter has been used for EMS flights for community members, conservancy rangers and MEP staff. All ensuring they make it to treatment in time when their location is remote.