We had two major announcements in the fourth quarter to propel our organization into our next decade of impact. In October, Mara Elephant Project welcomed H.S.H. Princess Marie of Liechtenstein as our first Global Patron. In her role as Global Patron, Princess Marie will focus on expanding Mara Elephant Project’s brand and influence internationally to bolster our impact. MEP is thrilled to add Marie’s passion and talents to the organization. Marie will join other notable women at MEP including Chairwoman Beatrice Karanja.
We also had the honor of welcoming famous wildlife photographer Jeffrey Wu as a MEP Image Ambassador. Jeffrey is a Canadian professional wildlife and nature photographer accredited by the Professional Photographers of Canada, a Kenya Tourism Board brand partner and a commercial photographer contracted by Nikon. Jeffrey became a professional wildlife photographer in 2013 shortly after his first trip to Kenya. Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Jeffrey started taking photos at the age of 7, under the direction of his mother, a professional portrait photographer. Jeffrey specializes in African wildlife photography and spends 10 months a year in Kenya and other African countries capturing their beauty. His images and articles have been published in more than 120 publications worldwide. We hosted Jeffrey at headquarters in the Mara in November where he was able to fully immerse himself in the organization and capture stunning images along the way. He also graciously hosted a photography class for any MEP staff interested. Conservation Officer Wilson Sairowua and several members of the MEP long-term monitoring team attended to learn more from Jeffrey about wildlife storytelling through the camera lens.
Most of the MEP team had the opportunity to join our close partner EarthRanger at a user conference held in Kenya in November. The conference was attended by over 300 people from organizations around the globe. I participated in the Forest Management discussion; Jake Wall led a standing room only presentation on Ecoscope and Conservation Officer Wilson Sairowua participated in the Communities in Conservation discussion. We were extremely proud to join our partners from near and far at the conference and want to thank Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) and EarthRanger for bringing us all together to learn more about the amazing work undertaken in conservation.
In the fourth quarter, once again, the helicopter was vital for the organization and allowed us to rapidly respond to several situations. In October, we reacted with the helicopter to an extremely severe conflict incident involving three herds of elephants. On the night of the 17th, they crossed the Mara River into farms near Emitik in Bomet County and got stranded there. They were all young bulls and probably got confused when trying to get back to Enerau Conservancy. The herds then got split up and at dawn when people started waking up, they surrounded the elephants and started attacking them. One of the stranded herds in turn attacked the crowd killing one man and injuring another badly. It was impossible to get rangers to that side of the river, so we deployed the helicopter to ferry rangers to the area and herd the elephants to safety. That day I flew the helicopter 7.8 hours. Our condolences go out to the families who lost one of their loved ones.
Here was my report to KWS leadership: “At 6:30 Narok SW informed me there was a conflict situation brewing across the Mara River in Bomet County. The report was that six elephants were stranded in farms and the community was gathering at the site. At 7:45 I arrived at the site with the helicopter, and we found the bull elephants in serious conflict situations. They had been injured by arrows and the community was surrounding them. One elephant had moved across the river but the remaining four were split up and in a life-threatening situation. The community was quite aggressive and already baying the elephants and shooting arrows at them. At this point I started ferrying in service members from Lemek and Rhino Sanctuary to each elephant location for increased security. We managed to push one bull back across the river but the other four would not move. At the same time, we called in KWS Vet Dr. Njoroge from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) Mara Mobile Vet Unit to treat the injuries. We successfully treated two of the worst by removing arrow heads and cleaning spear wounds.”
I responded with the helicopter in December to a young man from Talek who was injured by an elephant. He was taken to the Talek Health Center, but his injuries were graver than originally believed and he needed immediate transfer to Tenwek hospital. The MEP helicopter was called in to do a casualty evacuation to the hospital as his condition was unstable. We’re happy to report that he is well on his way to a full recovery and we’re thankful we had the use of the helicopter that made the rapid response possible.
In December, we also responded to assist with an elephant treatment alongside many of our close conservation partners. We received a request for aerial assistance from the Mara Triangle when a bull elephant was monitored with two suspected spear wounds on two legs. We quickly mobilized the helicopter to move the elephant out of thick brush so our partner KWS Vet Dr. Poghon from the SWT Mobile Vet Unit could treat the bull. Helping on the ground were rangers from the Mara Triangle and Anne K. Taylor Fund. The vet treated the bull’s wounds and administered medication to speed up his recovery. He was back on his feet thanks to this Mara team effort.
In the fourth quarter the helicopter was also used during a collaring operation for a new female elephant in the Marmanet Forest. Since 2020, MEP has been overseeing a team of community scouts in the Marmanet Forest. They monitor elephants in the area and coordinate with KWS and our forces to increase protection by deterring illegal activities in the forest and responding to conflict. They’ve had success in 2022 with supporting the community to remove elephants from their farms; however, damage to crops and property has been increasingly reported. We’ve actually seen a connection between the Mau Forest and Marmanet Forest when MEP collared elephant Vasco immediately traveled over 50 miles from the Mau to Marmanet after being collared in July 2019. The movement monitored by KWS, WRTI and MEP was entirely unexpected as elephants were not known to still move between these two separate geographical regions. Our ability to use the MEP leased helicopter to aerially monitor Vasco has helped increase our understanding of his movements and the forest. Through aerial and on the ground monitoring we’ve uncovered an alarming amount of illegal logging and charcoal operations inside the forest.
One of our goals in 2023 is to expand into the Marmanet Forest with a permanent ranger team. This will allow us to respond to alerts while we monitor the movement data from the collared elephants there. In response to increased conflict reported by the community from a large breeding her we collared a female elephant affectionally named “Bea” on the November 7 with KWS and WRTI in the northern portion of the Marmanet Forest. “Bea” is named after MEP’s Chairwoman Beatrice Karanja. We hope that Bea the elephant helps us keep an eye on Marmanet as Bea does with MEP. Elephant Bea resides in a herd of 30 and her collar will allow MEP and our partners to paint a more detailed picture of how elephants are using this important forest to increase not only the forest’s protection, but Bea’s as well.
Speaking of Bea, in December, a year-end celebration lunch was hosted at MEP HQ for staff and a few special guests including Bea attended. During the lunch, Wilson gave a presentation highlighting the team’s achievements in 2022, followed by a note of thanks from Jake for all the hard work by MEP staff in 2022. I announced promotions and presented badges of rank with Bea by my side. Bea, as our guest, concluded the ceremony with an uplifting speech that encouraged all of the men and women to continue on with their important work into 2023 and emphasized how she and her fellow trustees were right behind them supporting their efforts.
While the end of the year is a time of celebration, it is also a time of reflection. We did that recently as a team and it was next level inspiring. Join me as we celebrate and thank the MEP team for all that they are and do. Our Heroes. Our Wildlife Protectors. Our Community Ambassadors.MEP Chairwoman Beatrice Karanja
To echo what Bea so eloquently said, I wanted to express my thanks to all of our supporters in the fourth quarter. We received the largest amount of support in 2022 in the organization’s history and I am excited to show you the impact we can have in 2023 with you by our side.