Now, more than ever, the circle of life is at the forefront of everyone’s conscious as we watch the world deal with the long-lasting implications from COVID-19. The rapid and global spread of the COVID-19 virus has brought with it challenging future implications for conservation, particularly elephant conservation in Kenya. Mara Elephant Project is deeply concerned about the pending socio-economic downturn that has been predicted and what that means for the communities we work so closely with to protect Kenya’s iconic elephants and the Mara ecosystem. You can read our full statement here and learn more about what we’re doing to protect ourselves, wildlife and the community at this time. pictured left: MEP CEO Marc Goss wearing a MEP buff as protective gear while flying in March.
The new lineup photo for a MEP ranger unit in March to show social distancing.
In March, MEP discovered that our collared elephant, Ivy, brought new life into the Mara. On March 12, during an aerial monitoring flight of her, it was discovered she had just given birth to a brand-new baby calf. Ivy’s collar had been giving off a low speed alert over a 24-hour period and the Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter was deployed to check on her. She was tracked to a heavily wooded area of the Mara, and it was discovered that she had most likely given birth in the forest and was just emerging with the calf, a baby girl. Both mother and baby appear to be doing well. We also saw one of our collared elephants, Namunyak pass on from natural causes. An autopsy conducted by the Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarian showed an internal abscess on her spleen which caused an embolism, a natural death from a health defect. Namunyak was originally collared in Olarro Conservancy in January 2016 with support from World Wildlife Fund and she and her herd spent most of their time between the Olarro and Siana conservancies. Despite the high levels of conflict locally, Namunyak was not a habitual crop raider. She has left behind an almost one-year-old calf, born in May 2019 which was rescued and sent to the SWT elephant orphanage.
Ivy with her brand-new baby.
MEP participated in two additional baby elephant rescues in March, which contributed to the total 44 hours we flew the helicopter this month. On March 8 and March 14, MEP was called in to assist in the transport of young elephant calves to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage in Nairobi and Tsavo. It is very rare to get these rescue calls but since we are the only organization in the Mara with a dedicated helicopter for wildlife, the Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter yet again proves just how vital it is to saving elephant lives. pictured left: The baby elephant found on the 8th in the helicopter being transported to the SWT orphanage.
The KBCT helicopter also proved to be a critical piece of equipment as COVID restrictions increased in Kenya allowing for MEP to still intervene but keep safe and isolated. There were eight total incidents of human-elephant conflict in March and a total of six required the helicopter. It was also used to conduct a monitoring flight in Vasco in Baringo County and to shuttle supplies to a stranded Narok County Government ranger post after high levels of rain left them stranded in the field. pictured right: The Karen Blixen Camp Trust helicopter loaded up with supplies for stranded rangers.
The helicopter responding to conflict in March.
Security in the Mara is an increasing concern and the Narok County Government has taken appropriate steps to secure the National Reserve. The national government also implemented a nationwide curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. on the 26, and an economic stimulus package aimed at assisting low income families. While these efforts are extremely helpful, there continues to be a huge economic strain on the whole county which will affect security. At MEP we are keeping our intelligence teams and patrol teams busy by keeping an eye out for any potential outbreaks of elephant and bushmeat poaching. Already we have noticed an increase in the logging and habitat destruction especially in the areas of Naroosora near Loita and the Mau Forest. In March, MEP rangers removed a total of six snares, confiscated 32 illegally logged posts, 960 pieces of cedar, 58 bags of charcoal and destroyed 14 kilns. Additionally, along with Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service, MEP rangers arrested two suspects for illegal logging, one person transporting charcoal, one suspect with a spear and panga hunting and one suspect with 4 kg of bushmeat. Finally, the MEP team jointly with KWS officers conducted a successful operation and arrested two suspects with two pieces of elephant tusk along the Kenyan/Tanzanian border.
A truckload of cedar posts in Naroosura that were confiscated by MEP rangers.
One of five kilns destroyed on March 13 by the Loita team.
The MEP research department took on a new field assistant, David, and a motorbike to help collect ground truth points for landcover mapping. MEP CEO Marc Goss and Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall both attended a KWS census planning meeting to prepare for the upcoming planned aerial census of the Mara in May. However, we expect that the census will be postponed. The research team also observed that Shorty in the Serengeti and Kiambi in the conservancies are both in musth and moving quickly over long distances. Additionally, Caroline was sighted with a family of 12 by the MEP fencing team. Chelsea was monitored on the ground by the Siana team and the herd size was reported to be more than 60 elephants. The MEP team in Kericho spent a week in Marmanet forest monitoring Vasco. Fitz was monitored by the Transmara team and they spent most of their time pushing the group from farmland back into the forest.
MEP collared elephant Tressa with her family herd as seen from the air on a routine aerial monitoring flight. Tressa spent the whole period on the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
Mara Elephant Project celebrated World Wildlife Day, and we thank Vulcan, Inc. for their support and feature. MEP was the proud recipient of the Shining World Compassion Award for using cutting edge technology and inventive solutions to protect elephants in the Maasai Mara. This award, given by Supreme Master Ching Hai and the International Association also included a $30,000 donation to MEP’s core operations and MEP was featured on Supreme Master TV in an episode about our conflict mitigation work. Additionally, Creatura Wildlife Projects supported MEP with a beginning donation of $3,000, which we’ll be using to boost our core operations. During the month of March, we also received $14,093 from individual donors and $60 from Facebook donations. Thank you to Rita Cabases for her generous donation to support more flying time for the helicopter and also to Jennifer, Maryam, Gaudenz, Nathan, Nina and Brendan and everyone else for their generous donations. Additional thanks to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for their continued financial support of the SWT De-Snaring Unit operating in the Mau.
March brought out a lot of big cat photos in the Greatest Maasai Mara photo competition. Thank you to everyone who supported MEP in March: Laura Henning, Gurcharan Roopra, Charlotte Rhodes, Paaret Shah, Philippe Henry de Frahan, Nitin Michael, Stephen Underwood, Diana Knight, Barbara Krause, Greta Godbole, Susan Michel, Yaron Schmid, Ana Zinger, Mark Walker, Dileep Anthikad, Alison Mees and Jacques-Andre Dupont.
A Greatest Maasai Mara entry by Philippe Henry de Frahan.
Finally, while the world deals with a new normal, MEP’s fundraising efforts are on hold to instead focus on the task at hand, continuing to provide protection to the Mara’s wildlife and communities while taking into consideration the great long-term implications of COVID-19. Our aim over the coming months is to provide our supporters with stories about the work that continues on the ground and bring interesting and informative posts onto your social media feed during a dark and difficult time in history. We appreciate everyone’s support big or small during this time, but we are especially grateful to core supporters, the Sidekick Foundation, Inc. for providing the stability our organization needs to focus on the task at hand.