MEP employs Maasai rangers in patrol units working tirelessly in unprotected area of the Mara. Our rangers lead the anti-poaching operations and stop conflict to increase security for wildlife, communities and habitat in the Mara.
Mara Elephant Project ensures our rangers have the latest equipment while patrolling in the field. New equipment like projectile flares that are used to attract attention from a search and rescue aircraft help keep rangers safe. Ensuring they have well stocked medical kits helps them treat themselves or others in the event of a medical emergency. Powerful flashlights help them respond to conflict safely at night and Garmin InReach devices that have SOS location capabilities alert HQ at the first sign of trouble.
"The rangers are really the backbone of MEP and the reason why the community calls these rangers is not only because they know them and trust them, but because of the medic training they get, it’s their ability to go into a difficult and stressful situation."CEO Marc Goss
Training is also essential to keeping rangers safe while deployed in the field. Currently the bulk of MEP operations is the daily wildlife security which we furnish over a large diverse area. Each security staff member of MEP undergoes in-house basic tactical training which provides the platform for navigating dangerous situations while out in the field. All the rangers have completed several training courses, including commander’s, medic courses, and attend annual refresher training. In addition, support training including computer literacy, driver training, asset training, and other specific skills training outside paramilitary training is also part of MEP’s ranger development program. The wide skills training and the specific training enables our rangers to focus on their dangerous job of protecting wildlife, communities and habitat.
We protect wildlife through our anti-poaching patrols and intelligence gathering which deters poaching and increases security for not only elephants, but other wildlife. In partnership with government organizations, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS), MEP employs local Maasai rangers in our patrol units who work tirelessly to protect elephants. MEP’s male and female rangers are the backbone of our organization. We have a vast intelligence network that has been at the center of many arrests and seizures. The MEP intelligence rangers infiltrate the poaching network and pose as gunmen, buyers and ivory dealers, then once evidence is presented, they call in the ranger units and KWS to make arrests.
The intelligence network also consists of informal informants who work on a bonus system. Once an informant has led the security team to a number of successful arrests the informant becomes an investigator. The MEP intelligence department continues to impress with their ability to root out poachers, which has extended beyond Kenya to include Tanzania.
KWS and MEP’s presence in the Mara has disrupted poaching in the GME and we continue to increase our area of operation to include more of the GME.
"The rangers are really ambassadors inspiring young people to want to protect wildlife and if we can do that, we’re going to see a whole movement, a whole change in society. Our rangers have made us one of the most relevant conservation organizations in the Mara ecosystem."CEO Marc Goss
MEP is grateful to our research partners Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), Narok Country Government (NCG) and Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA). Together, we protect communities through our immediate response to conflict, daily monitoring of collared elephants and find long-term solutions to conflict through our applied research. This approach protects communities from threats and prevents conflict to promote co-existence. Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) is a broad term used to describe the many different negative interactions experienced by both people and wildlife as a result of living in proximity to one another. For elephants in the Maasai Mara, conflict usually manifests as crop-raiding and infrastructure damage and, in extreme cases, also includes human threat, injury and death. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) poses a significant challenge to conservation and is a problem we believe will get worse as we see human population and agricultural expansion along the human-wildlife interface.
Elephants can eat a farmer’s entire field of crops in one night, thus destroying his livelihood and can also cause damage to fences or homes when they enter settlement areas. 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. Since 2016, MEP has recorded a 268% increase in crop damage incidents by elephants and the total number of conflict incidents recorded by MEP has risen. In the same time period, elephant deaths from conflict have outpaced those from poaching.
Controlling conflict is difficult as elephants are very smart and use different tactics to raid crops while avoiding mitigations from farmers and wildlife rangers. As you can see in this video, three of KWS and MEP’s collared elephants, Ivy, Fred, and Kegol, all wait until night to raid crops, so they are difficult to detect. They are so quiet that even Ivy and her family group of nine are almost impossible to find at night. Elephants have also been observed using staging areas to raid. These forest patches provide safe refuge for resting during the day, while allowing them to stay close to crops. Individual elephants also appear to have different proclivities for raiding. While some like Ivy are “cropaholics”, others will only raid occasionally or not at all. Discovering why some elephants crop raid and others do not is one of the questions the Mara Elephant Project Research Department is asking.
Collecting long-term data on elephant crop raiding behaviors will help inform how KWS, WRTI, NCG, MMWCA and MEP can respond to conflict in both the short term with mitigations, and the long-term with landscape planning. In the short term, MEP works alongside farmers to mitigate conflicts as they occur with our boots on the ground ranger units and in partnership with KWS. MEP has developed a toolkit of best practices for mitigating human-elephant conflict. We deploy ranger teams to high human-elephant conflict areas, and they are tasked with preventing crop raids and moving elephants out of farms using vehicles, bright lights and flashbangs. If those methods don’t work, then the MEP leased helicopter is called in to push elephants out.
In the long-term, MEP is conducting research to inform more sustainable responses. MEP is working with KWS, WRTI and Colorado State University to assess the current conflict mitigation toolkit, and test and develop new tools. We are also using elephant tracking data in partnership with KWS and WRTI to characterize elephant behavior in relation to crop raiding. This includes studying staging behavior by elephants, looking at how the layout of the natural and agricultural landscape may exacerbate or reduce conflict, and the use of buffer crops that are unpalatable to elephants.
MEP’s research into the short and long-term solutions to crop raiding is critical in protecting the Mara’s elephants and communities.
"Community engagement and working with communities alongside forests, alongside national parks, alongside conservancies is key and critical to protecting wildlife."CEO Marc Goss
"Mara Elephant Project is a conservation project, so our main focus is elephants and we’re broadening those horizons now to include elephant habitat, the environment and some of the other issue’s elephants are facing as we look to a long-term strategy for elephant protection."Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall
Mara Elephant Project rangers increase security for wildlife and communities in their areas of operation all while deterring habitat destruction activities like illegal logging and charcoal production. MEP’s habitat protection activities are key specifically in the Loita, Mau and Nyakweri forests and this has been quite a challenge for our rangers as communities still rely heavily on cedar and other hardwoods for their houses, fences or firewood and land ownership is often unclear. Regular patrols of these forested area of the GME alongside partners Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) and KWS are key to rooting out destructive activities.
Expanding our presence in the forest areas is key and thanks to support from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, MEP now has two permanent ranger units, SWT Mau De-Snaring Units, in the Mau Forest. For the Loita Forest, Lori Price has supported two permanent teams to combat the rise in bushmeat poaching and habitat destruction we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic.
"As MEP now we’re seeing if we want to keep the health of the Mara alive, we have to protect the Mau Forest. So, we put our first ranger team into the Mau Forest; we also have a team in the Loita Forest."CEO Marc Goss