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. The Robinson 5Y-MEP helicopter is a vital tool for our organization and covers every single aspect of our operations. Piloted by MEP CEO Marc Goss, the helicopter ensures that we are saving more elephants faster.
The helicopter is used for aerial reconnaissance missions to spot illegal logging or charcoal operations or poacher’s camps from the air. The coordinates are then relayed to the ranger team on the ground to pursue.
It’s also used for the regular monitoring of 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.
It’s an essential part of MEP’s human-elephant conflict mitigation response. It works extremely well 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, 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.
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 from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mara Mobile Vet Unit performs most 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 team is the vet, myself, the scientist and the glue of the team is the helicopter. It’s been able to get us somewhere extremely fast and effectively. It can land in a small forest clearing, do our job, load up and we’re out.” Marc Goss, MEP CEO
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.
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.
It’s also been used for EMS flights for community members, conservancy rangers and MEP staff.
The helicopter is really effective at dropping seed balls from Seedballs Kenya to cover a large area in need of reforestation.