Q3 2021 Research & Tracking Report

The Mara Elephant Project Research Department started off the third quarter by publishing a conference paper that Dr. Jake Wall co-authored entitled “ElephantBook: A Semi-Automated Human-in-the-Loop System for Elephant Re-Identification”. The paper was about the ElephantBook (EB) platform we have been working on since April 2020 and we’ve made the code behind ElephantBook open source. MEP’s long-term monitoring (LTM) team is using EB to catalogue the ~2500 elephants that inhabit the Mara. So far, they’ve recorded over 250 individuals across 465 sightings within Mara North, Lemek and Naibosho conservancies and the Triangle. They’ve also had some amazing sightings in the third quarter. The LTM team along with Conservation Officer Wilson Sairowua spotted Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and MEP collared elephant Kiambi on July 10 in Olkinyei Conservancy while out monitoring elephants in the field.

On August 4, while researching a herd of elephants in the field, they captured the herd taking a break to bathe and drink from the iconic Mara River.

On September 22, the LTM team was monitoring elephants in the Mara Triangle when they noted a brand new one-day-old baby. Look how little and pink this brand-new baby is seen in photographs taken by the LTM Team Leader Vincent Lenkoko. The same month, Wilson snapped some amazing photos while out in the field with the team of a young baby elephant working on his trunk strength.

We added another member to the MEP Research Department team in August, Zakariya Hussein; we received generous support from the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) towards Zak’s position. He came to us from the EarthRanger team as a software developer to focus on building data analytics for EarthRanger. We’ve nicknamed the project ‘Conservation Macroscope’ and it will help us quickly turn raw data into actionable conservation intelligence. In September, we made significant progress on the project, and we are now running the project within Google’s Colaboratory. The notebooks are designed to make it easy to download tracking and event data from the EarthRanger platform and to perform analyses and create cartographic outputs. The goal is to open source the project once a few more key features have been added.

We received another grant from the Esri Conservation Programme for ArcGIS Online and desktop software. We really appreciate the support MEP has received from Esri to date. On August 19, our TerraChart application for Android went live on the Google Play Store. We now have the capacity for collecting geographic points as well as line features that can then be synchronized with the Landscape Dynamics database. We can also configure the app to be used in different regions using custom configuration options. A big thank-you to Ray at Enlivn Solutions for the app development support.

In late August, we hosted Save the Elephants (STE) at MEP for a 3-day workshop on the use of EarthRanger and other associated tools for data analytics. We really enjoyed our time with the STE team and the cross-organizational exchange of ideas and knowledge. We look forward to continued partnership with STE.

We also launched the new MEP experimental farm project and hired a farm manager and several assistants. We can’t wait to update you on the progress of this project as it matures.

Our fence team continues to collect vital data on the spatial extent and type of fencing across the Mara (pictured left, Chags Photography). In the third quarter, we added a further 751 km of fence line information to the Landscape Dynamics database and 115 LCC crop survey points. All of our field assistants are working on mapping fences, roads and landcover ground-truthing points using motorbikes and our Njia app.

The results from the National Wildlife Census 2021 were released on August 31 by the Kenyan government and their partners KWS and Wildlife Research and Training Institute. You can find the results here. MEP took part in the census by providing aerial support for counting elephants and other large mammals in the Greater Mara Ecosystem (GME) with a focus on the forests and blocks with more cover.

In terms of KWS and MEP collared elephants, as mentioned in the CEO report, KWS and MEP added two new elephants to our monitoring program in Shimba Hills, Dr. Omondi and Siham, and re-collared Dicki. In the GME, Chelsea was re-collared in the third quarter. KWS and MEP collared elephant Fred was spotted on July 7 by a MEP ranger unit while on patrol. Then, later in the month, on July 13, collared elephant Kegol was monitored grazing peacefully inside a conservancy. They were also both spotted together in August by MEP rangers while on patrol in Oloisukut Conservancy and later that week Kegol was monitored alone by another MEP ranger unit.