Since 2011, at the request of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), MEP has collared over 50 flagship elephants across threatened ecosystems. Collaring, monitoring and collecting data on elephants are key components to ensuring we meet our mission objectives. We maintain a collaring schedule that outlines for our organization a timeline for collaring in any given year.
When collaring, MEP focuses 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.
MEP monitors elephants in real-time by deploying satellite-enabled GPS tracking collars onto elephants. 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. MEP has adopted the advanced EarthRanger tracking platform to collate and visualize the data streams from elephants. The software runs real-time monitoring algorithms that 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.
“We are putting collars on these elephants 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
Using these tracking data, MEP generates monthly tracking reports and density and movement maps to better understand the patterns and behavior of these tracked animals. Each day coordinates are sent to ground patrols who use these to check on the elephants. Depending on the satellite image quality, it is possible to see settlements near the collared elephant. This information is used to anticipate possible human-elephant conflict incidents and intervene before they occur. The real-time location data provided by the collars allows MEP to monitor the movements of 400-600 elephants (estimated by spot counts during patrol flights) across the Mara, Mau, Loita, Rift Valley and Shimba/Mwaluganje ecosystems.
While MEP monitors the elephants on Google Earth, we also populate our geo-fence database. Geo-fences act as a warning system for collared elephants when they near settlement areas or farms. Most of the Mara satellite images are 1 m2 resolution so mapping settlement areas and farming areas is very feasible.
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. 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.
“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 Data and Reporting Manager
The collar data is not only helping with the joint KWS and MEP security operations but 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 collared elephants are needed in the Mara ecosystem to provide the spatial coverage necessary to assist operational protection and safety of the elephants either from poaching or human-elephant conflict, and because 30 individuals provides a statistically viable sample for understanding elephant range extent, identifying corridors and assessing the connectivity and changes in elephant movement across the landscape. This is why KWS and MEP continue to collar.