Mara Elephant Project’s expanded partnership network has allowed us to be successful in fulfilling our mission in the short term and sustaining it over the long term. Since 2011, MEP has established a strong working relationship with key government, conservation, scientific and tourism partners.
MEP has been engaging with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on a provincial and national level in Kenya to ensure that we are in compliance with and adding to the National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP). The NEAP framework was developed by IUCN and detailed in the “Conservation and Management Strategy for the Elephant in Kenya 2012-2021” authored by KWS. MEP believes it is critical to fit-in and contribute to the national elephant strategy plan and as such MEP has identified its key roles in delivering against the strategy. MEP is also part of the Area Elephant Management Committee that meets quarterly to report on developments in our areas of operation, share ideas and align with the NEAP objectives. The other committee members include Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers, KWS officers from Ramoi NP, Maasai Mara, Transmara, Baringo, the elephant program, county governments and key NGO partners. MEP aligns with a number of the NEAP objectives which defines our mandate in elephant conservation. Sharing these with our government partners and working together to achieve them is an important part of informing policy and building support.
MEP partners with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) for patrols in threatened forest areas of the Mara ecosystem. MEP is a transboundary organization and when intelligence operations take us across the border to Tanzania, we work closely with the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) for arrests and seizures and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) for shared movement data on any collared elephants. These expanded government partnerships have allowed MEP to expand our area of operation and influence in the Mara ecosystem raising the opportunity cost for illegal activities.
In terms of conservation partners, MEP began with support from Save The Elephants (STE) who helped collar and track elephants starting in 2011. Our elephant collaring approach started in partnership with Save The Elephants and the Kenya Wildlife Service and has developed over the last eight years of operation. Now all collared elephant movements are tracked on the secure STE app and EarthRanger system with key data and outputs shared between organizations.
MEP HQ is located alongside Mara North Conservancy and Lemek Conservancy and our rangers work in partnership with both to mitigate conflict and root out any poaching activities. We also partner with the the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA), who share our objective of conserving the greater Mara ecosystem and do so by focusing on strengthening and expanding local conservancies. Through research projects, data sharing and participating in joint meetings, we are better able to protect elephants, other wildlife, communities and the habitat upon which they all depend.
As MEP has expanded our research department, our scientific partners have also expanded to include organizations that support MEP data collection efforts. MEP’s datasets reside within a cutting-edge system co-developed by Dr. Jake Wall, Save the Elephants and Vulcan Inc., called EarthRanger. Jake is one of the original architects of EarthRanger, which streamlines conservation data processing by integrating tracking data from wildlife, vehicles and rangers along with field-based event data such as the location of snares or elephant sightings. The data are stored in a secure cloud platform and readily accessible to visualize through the EarthRanger web app, an iOS app, Google Earth or to be downloaded for further analysis within GIS software. MEP has a grant from the Microsoft AI for Earth program to host a cloud-based server to collect aerial imagery and spatial data related to various machine learning and landscape change detection projects. Esri supported MEP with free GIS software to support our conservation efforts. Esri is the world’s leading Geographic Information System (GIS) company and MEP is reliant on Esri products for analysis and cartographic outputs. The new MEP landDx (Landscape Dynamics) database went live on the Microsoft Azure cloud thanks to a grant from the AI4Earth and from the Esri Conservation Program.
Tourism contributes significantly to the national and local economy in Kenya and not only allows you to connect with nature, it also funds the protection of nature. Many protected areas or conservancies depend on tourism for revenue to fund the conservancy’s operations and protection of its wildlife. Tourism partners understand the importance of protecting the Mara’s wildlife, communities and habitat and that it ties directly into their business’ success. It’s with this in mind, MEP has partnered with camps all over the Mara to offer an exclusive visitor experience. MEP’s visitor experience allows tourists to have a unique experience that connects for them the importance of conserving the greater Mara ecosystem and the wildlife they are experiencing on their trip. Camps around the Mara are very interested in giving their guests an experience that brings their trip full circle. MEP has found that the camps are just as committed to the conservation of the Mara and we mutually understand that educating visitors about this precious ecosystem is an essential part of their experience if they are to be conservation advocates after they’ve left. Additionally, MEP has received direct support from camps in the Mara in the form of grants from their charitable organizations.