The Mara Lost a Giant in MEP’s April Report

Panthera Photo Safaris

The Mara has lost a giant. Bull elephant Kegol tracked continuously since 2015, has died after succumbing to his injuries suffered during a fight with another male. Estimated to be in his 50s, Kegol was classified as a tusker with tusks weighing 110 lbs. and 108 lbs. Collared at the height of the poaching crisis in the Mara, Kegol’s movements were tracked 24/7 by the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and MEP to protect him. While known to crop raid, Kegol was most often found in Mara North Conservancy near MEP headquarters alongside fellow tusker Fred.

“Sadly, we lost one of the biggest bulls, but it’s also important to remember the success of saving such a giant. Tracking him alongside our partners for almost 10 years increased his safety so that he could die naturally.”

MEP Special Projects Manager Wilson Sairowua

Kegol’s tusks were collected by KWS, and his remains were left at his place of death to complete the circle of life. “I remember when I was the tracking manager, Kegol was the first elephant that I used the app to track,” says Sairowua. “The plains of the Mara will not be the same without this big giant roaming around.”

How do tracking collars enable WRTI, KWS, and MEP to respond in real-time? On April 17, the MEP command center received an alert that collared elephant Lolotoo had stopped moving, and even more concerning, his movement in EarthRanger showed that he was navigating a heavily populated area. They immediately deployed the nearest ranger team to find Lolotoo and assess the situation. Luckily, when the rangers arrived, he was in good health and the collar was in good condition. While a happy ending, the collar alerts can also signal an elephant in need of vet intervention or one that needs to be moved out of an area where they aren’t safe. The team has stayed to monitor him and encourage him to not traverse into the community area.

In April, MEP offered an EarthRanger mobile refresher training course for rangers to demonstrate new functionality and run practice scenarios ensuring they are comfortable with the app and trained to use it to its full potential.

Overall, in April, MEP rangers alongside government partners arrested 12 habitat destruction suspects, confiscated two pieces of timber, and 303 posts, destroyed 12 charcoal kilns, and mitigated 23 conflict incidents. In April, MEP rangers covered a distance of 1,235 km on foot and 3,283 km by car in the GME.

The high rainfall during April meant ranger teams were unable to access areas easily and drones, especially responding to conflict incidents, have been a key tool. Drones were deployed to respond to conflict in Lemek, Ol-Kinyei, some parts of the Olarro area, and HQ responded to different cases of elephants in settlements near Mara North Conservancy and a few cases in the Pardamat Conservation area. We also provided aerial support to the Pardamat Conservation area after two of their rangers drowned in a river.

The “Golf” ranger team in Transmara made several visits to collared elephant Fitz in Nyakweri Forest. The herd of 70 has been trying to raid crops at night, but they responded to move them back to the forest using a thermal drone. On various occasions, the team also visited collared elephant Fred in Oloisukut Conservancy. The “Lima” ranger team in Mosiro has been actively monitoring a large herd of elephants in the Rift Valley. Mosiro has been experiencing a herd of elephants migrating to Shompole through the Rift Valley. In most cases, elephants raided the irrigation farms along the Ewuaso Ngiro River. However, the team successfully moved the herd out of the farms.

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Mau De-Snaring Unit has been monitoring the forest, primarily focusing on observing people’s movement within the forest and detecting any illegal activities. This recently led to the discovery of charcoal burning, and the team successfully destroyed the kilns after reconnaissance in the air. The “Charlie” team responded to cases of elephants raiding crops at Olmariko Forest. The Loita ranger teams, with less conflict in the region, have been monitoring the Loita Forest for habitat destruction, a useful tool to monitor areas not easily accessed on foot. We deployed the Mavic 3T in Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary to monitor collared elephant Gina and we successfully found her with a herd of five individuals.

In April, the MEP helicopter monitored collared elephants Audrey and Indy together in a herd of over 50 individuals. Also, Collared elephant Tino seems to be adapting very well to his new home in Tsavo after being translocated from the Tana River area in late January. MEP CEO Marc Goss conducted an aerial monitoring flight to note Tino’s health and ensure his collar was in good condition. Based on his tracked movements, he’s spending time in the open savanna in a protected area. Their collar data enables WRTI, KWS, and MEP to monitor their real-time movements across the landscapes they both inhabit.

On the ground, collared elephants Fred, Fitz, Matali, Kiambi, and Polaris were all monitored by MEP rangers in April.

In April, MEP Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Jake Wall attended the annual transboundary Mara-Serengeti management meeting hosted by the Greater Serengeti Conservation Society. The objective of the meeting was to compile and update scientific summaries that were then presented to managers from both Tanzania and Kenya. The meeting was well attended and we were honored that Governor Patrick Ol Ntutu launched the ‘Greater Maasai Mara Monitoring Framework’ which has been a collaborative effort for the last two years among various contributors including MEP. The GMMF has now been officially adopted as a means to monitor the health of the ecosystem and as well as to assess progress with the Greater Mara Ecosystem Management Plan. The GMMF is a key tool that will be used to assess the extent and health of elephant habitats as well as many other ecosystem health indicators spanning environmental, human-wildlife interface, and socio-economic categories. Work on the GMMF is ongoing as there are still many indicators for which data is needed as well as analytical processing.

MEP joined tourism and conservation partners and over 30 community members on Earth Day to collect and recycle trash in Aitong Center. The theme this year is plastic eradication and MEP staff from all departments volunteered to collect and sort the trash for recycling, which included many plastics. To encourage recycling, MEP donated four AV gas drums that will be repurposed by the community for environment-friendly trash collection.

The Farm team held an education activity for Earth Day with 100 learners from Enkipai Primary School.

MEP partners with organizations protecting all animals, no matter their size. In April, Karen Blixen Camp Trust held its Mara North Conservancy Dog Project clinic in Mararianta Village to vaccinate and spay/neuter over 3,000 dogs. The clinic aims to control the population of domestic dogs and protect wildlife and the communities against diseases transferred from them. MEP staff joined the MNC Dog Project and volunteered alongside their team giving them a unique perspective on conservation.

MEP is thrilled to showcase our first-ever photography exhibition at our headquarters in the Mara featuring MEP Image Ambassador Jeffrey Wu. The award-winning wildlife photographer has graciously donated these prints so 100% of the proceeds from the sale support MEP’s work to protect elephants and their habitats. Prints are available for sale and can ship internationally. To find out more about the selection of prints and prices email us.

MEP rangers and researchers use Garmin products daily in the field. These tools are used to take down coordinates, navigate the bush, report incidents, and mark wildlife corridors. The data is contributed to MEP’s EarthRanger system to create visual outputs that help management and partners make data-driven decisions. Recently, Spejder Sport donated six Garmin watches, two Montana 700 GPS, and six inReach devices to support MEP rangers and researchers’ work in the field.

MEP employees, Tor and Meshack, are training hard to run the 25th Lewa Safari Marathon taking place in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on June 29. They’ll be representing MEP and raising money for our community rangers. You can support them here.

MEP Monthly Report April 2024