Mara Elephant Project (MEP) has been operating in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya since 2011 with the mission of protecting elephants to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem. The African elephant is in crisis. Across the continent, a mixture of land-use changes resulting from human population growth (expanding settlements, crop-based agriculture, fenced plots), deforestation and poaching for elephants’ highly-valuable ivory is causing their populations to dwindle. The growing needs of the African human population only partially explains the shrinking elephant numbers with human development encroaching upon traditional and historic elephant rangelands, and human-elephant conflict leading to illegal killing by farmers who see elephants as pests. That, paired with the continued demand for ivory, means the illegal killing of elephants, through conflict and poaching, is at its highest level since the ban on international ivory trade was established.
The vast farmland slowing taking over elephant rangeland.
The rise of human-elephant conflict (HEC) meant that MEP needed to add a new essential tool to our constantly evolving HEC toolkit: the Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter piloted by MEP CEO Marc Goss (pictured left). Mara Elephant Project operates the only helicopter in the Mara. We’ve had use of the helicopter since 2015, and through this, we have been able to expand our operation area for rapid response to poaching, injured wildlife, and conflict by 4,000 km2.
The helicopter is an essential tool in our HEC toolkit and works well in coordination with flash bangs and soon unmanned aerial vehicles. Additionally, it supports our collaring and monitoring efforts by making the collaring of at-risk elephants safer for both the elephant and support team. We are also able to complete monthly monitoring flights that not only ensures the elephant’s safety and well-being but also helps us collect important data like herd size and health. Though MEP rangers are the backbone of our organization, the helicopter provides them with aerial support in difficult human-elephant conflict mitigate situations. We are able to locate crop-raiding elephants faster and provide a much-needed distraction from the elephant while our boots on the ground guide them to safety.
When MEP is responding to conflict the helicopter can be a welcomed distraction.
The benefits of having access to the helicopter has not only directly helped MEP, but many other organizations in the Mara as well. Having the only helicopter in the Mara has allowed us to create more partnerships within the Mara for example, we’ve increased our partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mobile Vet Unit (pictured left) to respond to injured animals over a much larger area. Another great benefit for the Mara is that MEP is able to quickly and effectively help anyone injured during a human-wildlife conflict situation and get them to treatment as soon as possible. In a smaller capacity, we are also helping investigate and treat other injured or deceased animals in the Mara such as giraffes and buffalo.
So, when you support MEP’s Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter, you’re really supporting the welfare and continued conservation of the Mara and every organization that strives to protect its precious people, wildlife and ecosystem.
The MEP helicopter pushing an elephant out of a populated village.
The helicopter is extremely essential to our operations on a daily basis; however, operating the helicopter is expensive, thus creating a dichotomy of need. The helicopter costs $400 an hour to fly. This amount covers fuel, insurance and maintenance of the helicopter, all vital parts of keeping us safe. On average, MEP is supposed to fly 26 hours a month for a total cost of $10,400, but recently, with the increase in human-elephant conflict (78 incidents alone in June and July) MEP has been operating the helicopter over time with 192 hours flown by the end of June making that roughly 32 hours a month. As such, we are projected to fly an additional 130 hours in 2017 for a total cost of $86,170, but if we’ve already used more than that in the first half of the year, it means we really need your support for the rest of 2017.
Please head to our website for more information about your donation options including Generosity. Any donations received you will receive a monthly helicopter report written by the CEO detailing each mission flown. To physically visit MEP HQ, feel free to email us directly.