The fourth quarter to close MEP’s 10th year of operation proved to be a productive and exciting time. The excitement started early when October 7 turned into a rare day. Three baby elephants needed treatment for snare wounds all in one day. While rangers from the Mara Triangle were on patrol, they spotted all three babies in the same herd, all with snares wrapped around their bodies that needed to immediately be removed and treated. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Vet Dr. Limo was rushed in using the Mara Elephant Project leased helicopter while Mara Triangle, Anne K Taylor Fund and MEP rangers supported operations on the ground. Two calves had snares around their necks, while one not only had one around his neck, but also his right foot. Dr. Limo and his team from the KWS / Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) Mara Mobile Vet Unit went to work and successfully removed the snares and treated the wounds of all three babies. After treatment, thanks to everyone’s joint efforts, the babies were reunited with their mothers to begin the healing process.
The MEP leased helicopter was busy in October beyond this baby elephant treatment. It is such a critical tool for our operations, and in October, it was used to respond to conflict, provide aerial reconnaissance to help ground teams increase protection in the Mara’s forests, and provide an immediate medical emergency flight to community members in trouble quickly and effectively. That’s what happened on October 16, when I got the call that a community member in Talek had been gored by a buffalo and needed immediate medical attention. The helicopter was able to ferry the severely injured man to Tenwek Hospital where he received the urgent care he needed. While rare, these emergency medical flights are a crucial part of MEP’s objectives to not only protect the Mara’s wildlife, but also the communities that live alongside them.
On October 25, an aerial patrol flight of the Mau Forest was conducted with partner Kenya Forest Service (KFS). During the flight, an active illegal logging site was spotted from the air and busted on the ground. The MEP/SWT “Golf” Mau De-Snaring Unit, KWS and KFS recovered and destroyed 1,600 posts and 170 beams.
In November and December, the leased helicopter was used for several collaring operations. On November 19, alongside KWS Vet Dr. Limo and the MEP “Echo” ranger unit, KWS, Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), Southern Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO) and MEP collared a female elephant in a herd of over 60 elephants in the Mosiro area. This female elephant was collared in response to an escalating conflict incident in the area. Two days prior, a report came in from the community that a 22-year-old man died as a result of wounds sustained by an elephant. I immediately rushed to the scene in the leased helicopter and alongside the MEP ranger team and government partners, we were able to communicate with the local community; however, tensions continued to rise.
The joint team of rangers meeting with community members.
Alongside my aerial support, our ground teams spent days trying to reduce rising tensions and on November 19 they boiled over when a mob was formed to attack a nearby elephant herd. The rangers and helicopter were used to disperse the mob and collaring an elephant in the herd attacked was the best response to calm the community’s nerves and protect the elephant herd under attack. The female elephant, “Indy”, sponsored by the Indianapolis Zoological Society, was collared to increase our ability to respond to conflict in this area immediately and to understand the connectivity between Mosiro and the Loita Plains. A MEP ranger unit is permanently stationed in this area to protect the newly collared elephant and her herd, and they will work with the community to reduce rising tensions and protect their farms and homes.
On December 7, KWS, WRTI and MEP re-collared Fitz, supported by the Angama Foundation, in the Nyakweri Forest alongside the KWS Mara Vet Unit led by Dr. Limo. The MEP leased helicopter was essential to this successful operation, helping push Fitz out of the dense forest and into a clearing where he could be safely re-collared.
In November, I flew an aerial reconnaissance in the Mau Forest and marked various spots for ground teams to follow up on. Additionally, the leased helicopter was used to check in on collared elephant Fred who had a low-speed alert. We confirmed a good aerial visual and luckily, he was in good health alongside Kegol on November 29.
The second annual Ultra MARAthon took place on December 4 and MEP provided security in the air and on the ground along the running route. It was a beautiful day to run in the Mara and we congratulate all of the runners and organizers of this amazing event.
On December 3, a young elephant calf was found by Maasai Mara National Reserve rangers alone. MEP’s leased helicopter was immediately called in to airlift the baby to the SWT orphanage in Nairobi. Alongside KWS Vet Dr. Limo from the SWT Mara Mobile Vet Unit, we escorted her to the orphanage in the helicopter. While rare to have a baby elephant passenger in the helicopter, we are always thankful when we can rapidly respond to an elephant calf in distress.