Since 2011, the Mara Elephant Project’s rangers have played a critical role in defending the Mara’s wildlife, communities and habitat.
MEP’s rangers are local people given long-term employment and the skills to be protectors and stewards for Kenya’s irreplaceable ecosystem. MEP has deployed over 50 rangers in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and now has permanent ranger units in critically endangered forest areas like the Mau and Loita.
Since 2011, MEP and Kenya Wildlife Service have arrested 373 total ivory or bushmeat poachers. A poacher is only one piece of the puzzle, a term most commonly known and used in today’s world; however, MEP arrests more than just poachers. The 373 total arrests account for all wildlife criminals meaning poachers, middlemen and ivory dealers. It takes more than just a poacher to get the ivory out into the market, so we focus on gathering intelligence and arresting all participating parties along the way.
MEP employs highly trained intelligence officers who have been at the center of the arrests alongside KWS that have resulted in the seizure of 1,676.5 kilograms or 3,696 pounds of ivory.
KWS and MEP’s boots on the ground presence has increased the opportunity cost of poaching in the Mara.
KWS and MEP’s presence in the Mara has resulted in less elephant deaths due to poaching.
In 2012, 96 elephants were poached for their ivory in the Mara ecosystem, in 2019, that total fell to three.
This is a reduction in the percentage of illegally killed elephants in 2012 from 83% to 24% in 2019.
Bushmeat poaching using snares has become common in the Mara. As a result, in 2019, MEP ranger units focused on removing 231 snares in our area of operation and confiscated 82 kilograms of bushmeat.
Our increased boots on the ground not only enables us to arrest poachers, but also respond to other wildlife crimes. We are able to remove snares, confiscate illegal weapons, wildlife meat and illegally traded items such as leopard skins and lion canines.
Being able to get all of these items off of the black market helps us to protect the elephants more completely.
MEP is on the cutting edge of deploying innovative techniques and technologies to mitigate conflict quickly and effectively increasing food security for communities and ensuring the safety of elephants. The number of conflict incidents since 2016 have steadily risen from 91 to 181 in 2019. Elephant deaths as a result of conflict far outpace those of poaching with 12 deaths in 2019 due to conflict.
MEP deploys the Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter, elephant collars and boots on the ground rangers to mitigate conflict and ensure the community’s safety
Most conflict incidents can be mitigated using ranger vehicles, firecrackers, chili powder pods, drums, or in extreme cases, the Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter. The Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter flew 192.5 hours in 2019 to save elephants and communities.
All of KWS and MEP’s collared elephants are monitored daily; whether remotely via Google Earth, in the air using the KBCT helicopter or on the ground by ranger teams. Our implemented monitoring system provides data that is being used daily to mitigate human-elephant conflict.
In 2019, at the request of KWS, MEP re-collared three elephants, Lempiris, Ivy and Fred, and collared seven new elephants; a total of 10 collaring operations for 2019. The “Mara Team” made up of some key members from KWS, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) and MEP with assistance from the KBCT helicopter collared five elephants in July, four of which were in very difficult conditions. Elephants have been going into places where they have not visited for years and the team reacted to these incidents rapidly and effectively as would be expected with its combined experience. On July 30, the team successfully collared a bull elephant named Hannibal in the Thogoto Forest, an area on the western side of Nairobi, a city with a population of over 3 million people. In July, MEP was also called in to work with KWS in the Suswa and Mosiro areas of the Rift Valley to react to human-elephant conflict that resulted in one human death and one injury. We deployed a collar onto a bull elephant, Napoleon, to better monitor his movements in this region. Another bull, Vasco, was collared in a group at the north end of the Mau in the Chemesusu Forest and subsequently streaked east across the Rift Valley to Mukuyuni and Lake Solai. Finally, we collared a female named Wangare located in the Loita Hills and a large male, Maximus, in the Mau Forest. All of the collars deployed in July give us unique insight on elephant movements over a very large area from Southern Baringo, Mau, Nairobi, Mosiro and Loita.
The long-term data is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the movements of elephants within the greater Mara ecosystem and establishes a baseline of movement patterns on which we can also monitor changes over time to increase security.
A new technique Mara Elephant Project is testing to safely move elephants out of community land is a large pepper and charcoal dust ball that disintegrates in a cloud of dust when thrown near elephants. Teddy Kinyanjui, owner of Seedballs Kenya, teamed up with PhD researcher Nathan Hahn to invent this new farm based HEC deterrent. These chili powder pods were deployed in the third quarter of 2019 and they have already recorded throwing the pepper balls over 100 meters. This new technology is important to trial while developing our best practices for the HEC toolkit.
As a result of increased habitat destruction, MEP rangers focus more than ever on shutting down illegal logging and charcoal operations in critical forest areas of the Mara ecosystem.
In 2019, MEP rangers alongside partners confiscated 21,738 illegally logged posts, arrested 46 people for illegal logging and charcoal production, destroyed 246 kilns and 221 bags of charcoal.
We increased our ranger presence in the Mau Forest by deploying the second Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mau De-Snaring Unit in December 2019 and put a permanent Loita Forest ranger team in place. Our partner patrols with Kenya Forest Service and Bongo Surveillance Project are not only protecting wildlife but also increasing the amount of illegal habitat destruction activities we can shut down.