Q1 2024 Research & Tracking Report

Mara Elephant Project co-authored a paper on elephant movement published in the journal Movement Ecology – Land use drives differential resource selection by African elephants in the Greater Mara Ecosystem, Kenya. We used a resource selection function (RSF) approach to analyze ~1.3 million collected GPS datapoints to understand the selection preferences of elephants across three land-use zones (formerly protected, conservancies, and unprotected). We noted significant changes in elephant habitat preference, particularly with regards to vegetation. Notably, elephants most strongly selected high-canopy cover forest thickets and avoided open-areas. This selection preference was accentuated when in the unprotected areas presumably because of the visibility and human encounters. We received support from Google to run our analysis in the Google Cloud platform and use extremely high-RAM virtual machines.

The MEP Research Department continues to manage a grant from Basecamp Explorer Foundation – Kenya supporting the implementation of Ecoscope. We hosted team members from the Kenya Birds of Prey Trust (KBOPT) at MEP for a workshop on EarthRanger and how we could best support raptor-nest site monitoring across the Mara. We also had a successful follow-up meeting with the Directorate of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS). MEP is helping DRSRS to load historic aerial survey data into EarthRanger and develop an Ecoscope workflow for processing the data.

In terms of monitoring, in late January, MEP received a report from Mara North Conservancy rangers about a young bull elephant that was limping. The MEP long-term monitoring (LTM) team responded to monitor the elephant and decided that he needed treatment. They called the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Vet Dr. Njoroge from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) Mobile Vet Unit to treat his hip wound in hopes that it won’t affect his movements long term.

On January 26, rangers monitored collared elephant “Bea” in the Marmanet Forest alongside a herd of over 20 which included several very new additions. Collared elephant “Tino” was translocated by KWS with MEP’s assistance in the air in January. The “Golf” ranger team has been keeping an especially close eye on “Fitz” as his collar stopped reporting in February and will need to be replaced. “Olchoda” needed vet treatment after the “Foxtrot” ranger team monitored him with a leg wound. Elephant monitoring continued both on the ground and in the air using drones in the first quarter.

In February, the MEP “Lima” ranger team deployed a drone to monitor collared elephant Isiah supported by the Royal African Foundation.

MEP’s field research assistants are working on mapping fences, roads and landcover ground-truthing points using motorbikes and our TerraChart app. They recorded 1,752 km of fences in the first quarter. The Coexistence Farm is focusing on the five crops that have been identified with low predation levels, rosemary, French lavender, chili, tea tree and citriodora, which will now be grown in larger quantities at the farm alongside the economic study. The high amount of rainfall and ripe crops bordering the farm meant high levels of predation. The MEP Farm staff were taught how to use various mitigation tools and helped farmers move elephants from their farms before they harvested their crops. In addition, a total of 110 women from three villages received kitchen garden training and seedlings to promote better nutrition and also fosters self-sufficiency and economic opportunities.

MEP began 2024 with great news that Kampur Travel Diaries is once again supporting our conservation education program. In February, the MEP long-term monitoring (LTM) team visited three Mara schools to present on their elephant monitoring and identification work and, most importantly, the vital role youth play in the future of the Mara’s wildlife and wild spaces. The 250 students from Sekenani and Ololchurra schools and the Semadep Foundation’s school were enthusiastic learners, and the MEP team was bolstered by their time spent with the next generation of Kenyan conservationists. On World Wildlife Day, members of the MEP Research Department alongside partners presented to 50 students about the technologies they are deploying daily to conserve elephants and their habitats. In addition, the team set up a kitchen garden at Emarti Primary School of over 1,500 seedlings and five different vegetables to ensure food security and conservation in schools is sustained.