Kenya continues to report increased cases of COVID-19 and at the end of May the numbers stood at 1,962 confirmed cases, with 64 deaths and 478 recoveries. As travel restrictions remain in place, the Mara is in the third month without tourists and communities with less or no income. As was projected, we are starting to see concrete evidence that bushmeat poaching is on the rise and continuing the protection of the Mara’s wildlife, communities and habitat alongside partners is crucial right now. Poaching in Mara North Conservancy (MNC) has been unheard of for over a decade but in May, two suspects were arrested during a joint operation conducted by Mara North Conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and MEP rangers. Pictured: Two suspects arrested for bushmeat poaching on May 19.
In total, MEP rangers along with partners confiscated a total of 250 kg of bushmeat and arrested 11 bushmeat poaching suspects. In the Mau Forest area, MEP rangers together with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Bongo Surveillance Project (BSP) removed a total of 30 snares during their joint patrols. On May 29, KWS and MEP personnel recovered 4 pieces of elephant ivory weighing 37 kg at Ngorengore. Throughout the month, MEP rangers were involved in numerous joint patrols within the Mara ecosystem to increase protection.
The 37 kg of ivory seized on May 29.
While remaining vigilant about poaching, MEP rangers continued to shutdown other illegal activities in the Mara alongside partners. In May, there were a total of 3,053 illegally logged posts and two power saws confiscated along with 10 people arrested for activities related to illegal logging or charcoal production. MEP rangers also destroyed a total of 35 kilns and confiscated 20 bags of charcoal. Pictured left: MEP rangers destroying a charcoal kiln on May 26.
While MEP rangers focused on stopping illegal activities, human-elephant conflict is also increasing with crops ripening in communities. In total, MEP rangers responded to 14 conflict incidents, the most occurring in the Naroosura area. Specifically, the area of Enkongu Enkare located in Naroosura has seen a high level of conflict in the last few weeks of May that MEP rangers are responding to day-and-night to keep both elephants and the community safe.
Conflict damage recorded on May 7.
At the end of the month MEP was approached by KWS and Animal Rights Reserved who reported that 30 cape buffalo were stranded on a small island on Lake Naivasha and had run out of food. The two organizations supported the flying time to push the animals to safety and the operation was a great success. We suspect that the rapidly rising lake caught the buffalos off guard and suddenly they found themselves surrounded by water.
Unfortunately, one of MEP’s longest continually tracked elephants Caroline was found dead on May 8 of natural causes. Caroline was originally collared in December 2011 and was re-collared twice, February 2015 and May 2018, helped MEP establish a long-term record of her movements to build a case for support to protect the Pardamat Conservancy. Collared elephant Kiambi reported a low speed alert at several locations in May but the MEP aerial team confirmed he was doing well after flying over to check on him (pictured left). He was spotted with a big group of females in the Reserve. MEP rangers on the ground caught a glimpse of Fitz in the Nyakweri Forest. He and his herd have been moving into farms at night to crop raid and then returning back to the cover of the forest early in the morning; keeping MEP rangers stationed nearby very busy. The research department continued monitoring MEP’s collared individuals and our field assistants covered 1,917 km mapping fences and collecting ground truth points necessary to develop our landcover map. Using the software module, we are developing to interface with EarthRanger we’ve now been able to extract collar battery voltage information that compares voltage over the current month versus the historical statistics for that unit. Using this method, we’ve now seen that three of our collars are approaching the end of their lifetime and need to be replaced.
In May, the MEP Research Department kicked off a project to develop a database and photo management system for elephant ID photos. A student from Caltech will be leading the project on MEP’s behalf and working together with WildMe (based in Portland) and Vulcan (based in Seattle) to setup an elephant Wildbook. MEP is collaborating with both Elephant Voices and Elephants Alive on this project. The goal is to develop a streamlined workflow to acquire field photos of elephants and ID them based on historic photos stored in the database or log a new individual based on the sighting information. We’re making progress on an analysis of elephant range use in the Mara. The database consists of nearly one million recorded positions since 2011. We are using a resource selection approach to quantify how elephants select certain components in the landscape. These covariates include vegetation quality/quantity, terrain, security, proximity to water and people.
There was an exciting event that made national news this month. On May 17, three bull elephants traveled, we think, from Mosiro in the Rift Valley, to the outskirts of Nairobi. This event had people posting all over social media. Some were seeing elephants for the first time in their lives, others were teasing that the elephants do not respect the lockdown, and some were worried about the landowner and elephant’s safety. The KWS were quick to respond and translocate the three bulls to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. They also collared one of the bulls in partnership with Save the Elephants and the collared animal is now also on our system and is currently in the MMNR respecting COVID travel restrictions.
Elephants in Nairobi photographed by residents and posted on social media.
MEP was mentioned in Bloomberg’s Daily Daydream about the Best African Safari Adventure and Mary Holland spent time in the Mara recently and wrote a great article for Condé Nast Traveler about the effect of COVID-19 on tourism and Kenya’s tourism industry. It not only features a mention of MEP, but also many of our partners. Thank you to everyone who supported MEP with an entry in the Greatest Maasai Mara photo competition: Graham Wood, David Roberts, Riz Jiwa, Philippe Henry de Frahan, Pragnesh Patel, Mindy Hayton, Adnan Savani, Roisin Allen, Margaret Bishop, Stephen Underwood, Charlotte Rhodes and Gurcharan Roopra. In terms of donations received, despite the on-going economic impact of COVID-19, we continue to see incredible support receiving a total of $64,245.26 in May.