Rangers are the first line of defense on the ground to combat habitat loss and protect both wildlife and communities in the Mara. As we’ve seen over the past few months, some illegal activities like bushmeat poaching and habitat destruction are on the rise and in response, MEP recruited 10 new men and women that trained on campus in October. There are 14 total recruits, four are cooks that travel with MEP ranger units, and 10 rangers due to be deployed in the Loita area for added protection.
The new recruits all kitted out on MEP’s campus.
This additional ranger support will join the ranger units hard at work in the Mara. MEP’s rangers stationed in the forest areas of Mau and Loita are removing bushmeat snares regularly during their patrols. On October 15, the MEP/Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) “Charlie” ranger unit stationed in Bondet Mau removed 15 snares while out on patrol. Bushmeat poaching using snares is illegal in Kenya and not only impacts the common animals found inside the snares, antelopes, zebra, dik dik, and wildebeest, but also can create life threatening injuries in larger animals like elephants and lion. Unfortunately, in October, this occurred when Mara Predator Conservation Programme announced the passing of three well-known lions and other wildlife due to their injuries sustained from snares found in Ol Chorro Conservancy. MEP rangers joined our partners the very next day to search for any additional injured wildlife and remove any leftover snares from the poachers.
Snares collected on October 15.
The protection of the Nyakweri Forest and monitoring of collared elephant Fitz, supported by Angama Foundation, continues by MEP rangers alongside Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). This area is seeing regular conflict and habitat destruction activities and the monitoring on the ground of Fitz not only ensures his and his herds protection, but also deters illegal activity from taking place in the forest. On October 12, while on the ground monitoring Fitz, the team heard the sound of a power saw and went to investigate and they discovered one suspect in the act of cutting timbers using a power saw, arrested him and confiscated the timbers and the power saw. (pictured left: The arrest on October 12 in the Nyakweri Forest.) The MEP “Echo” ranger unit ambushed a truck on October 13 at night that was transporting 43 bags of charcoal created illegally inside a protected forest area in the Mara. Then, on October 23, MEP rangers arrested one person and confiscated 400 posts in the Naroosura area of Loita.
Charcoal being transported out of the forest, intercepted by MEP rangers.
In total, in October, MEP rangers alongside our government partners arrested two suspects with 16 kg of ivory. pictured left: One suspect was arrested on October 6 with a tusk weighing 12 kg. They removed 69 snares, confiscated two power saws, destroyed 10 charcoal sacks, two kilns, recovered 195 timbers, 1,065 posts and three trees and arrested 18 people for habitat destruction related activities. They also responded to a total of five conflict incidents in October. In October, MEP rangers covered a distance of 1,128 km on foot, patrolled 8,498 km by car and 1,120 km on motorbike.
On October 31, MEP CEO Marc Goss attended a joint celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Maasai Mau Forest reclamation. Attended by high level government officials and local agencies committed to protecting the Mau Forest Complex, a tree planting ceremony took place at the Senetwet Primary School in Maasai Mau Forest. The ecological, social, and economic significance of Maasai Mau Forest (MMF) Block to Kenya, Eastern African region, Africa and the World, cannot be overemphasized. The continuous widespread encroachments and destruction of the forest block presents environmental, economic and security threats. These threats are being addressed by the government with a land reclamation process, which MEP supports.
The Mau tree planting ceremony on October 31.
In October, two of our field assistants were seconded to the KWS led Mau Forest dung count aiming to establish the current population of elephants living within the forest. All of the collars deployed in the Mau have now stopped working and will need to be replaced. The tracking data helped guide the census count planning process. MEP also supported the operation logistically with a vehicle and we are excited to hear the results when finalized by KWS. Our fence team remained active and mapped a further 340 km of fencing across the ecosystem.
Newly collared elephant Harriet has been keeping the MEP rangers on the ground monitoring her and her herd very busy. MEP’s “Alpha” ranger unit has been moving her herd of 13 away from fenced in farms regularly, where they have been breaking the fences to access a large dam. MEP rangers also responded to collared elephant Kiambi breaking fences before returning back into conservancy land and Lempiris was in a hot conflict area of Loita crop raiding at night before moving into a nearby conservancy. Fitz and his herd continue to habitually crop raid nearby farms bordering the forest and the MEP “Bravo” team were regularly having to move them back into the forest. Collared elephant Vasco who moved outside of the Mara ecosystem continues to be closely monitored on the ground by the community group on the ground.
Elephant Fitz photographed by rangers on the ground monitoring his movements.
During the first of the month, MEP’s response to conflict in the helicopter received some national media attention when a large male elephant got stuck in a tea plantation in Kericho causing large crowds of local community members to gather (pictured left). While elephants are not drawn to tea plants as a source of food, it can happen that one strays from the Mau Forest into these tea plantations and then their path is blocked back into the forest. KWS and MEP rangers were on the ground handling the situation however the helicopter was needed to quickly push the stubborn bull back to the forests edge. The story was featured nationally in Kenya in The Standard and The Star.
This in addition to an EMS flight that took place on October 1. MEP received an urgent call from Jeffrey Wu that a young boy was charged by a cape buffalo and had serious injuries that needed immediate attention. CEO Marc Goss quickly flew to pick up the boy and safely transported him to Tenwek Hospital where he received treatment for a puncture wound in his bottom and right side of his stomach. Luckily, he is expected to recover and was very brave during our flight. On October 17, Mara Elephant Project CEO Marc Goss was involved in a helicopter crash in the Mau region of the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Marc and all passengers aboard were not injured but the Robinson R44 helicopter owned by Karen Blixen Camp Trust was severely damaged and is out of operation indefinitely.
The emergency flight that took place on October 1.
On December 12, MEP rangers and administrative staff will be participating in the UltraMARAthon being run in the Mara. Our rangers will be providing security along the racecourse and our team will be raising money for our partners For Rangers and Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association to support conservancies struggling while tourism recovers. Artist Leslie Cline donated 10% of sales back to MEP during the last week of October. She also gave away a free elephant print to one lucky winner. Thank you for your support! Wildlife photographer William Fortescue wrote a great piece about photographing elephants in the Mara, which included a Mara Elephant Project mention. The increase in bushmeat poaching experienced by MEP and other NGOs operating in Kenya is featured in a recent article from the Telegraph and MEP’s intelligence unit is spotlighted in an article from the Daily Mail. The final month for entries in the 2020 Greatest Maasai Mara photo competition was in October and Mara Elephant Project received 50 amazing photographs that benefitted us. This was by far the highest number in 2020. We cannot wait to see who wins the grand prize in 2020.
An entry by Graeme Purdy that won the October GMM competition.
Finally, MEP received a call from a local community member that he had taken in a young giraffe calf for the night that was found roaming alone. He asked if MEP rangers could go out the next day to look for the mother of this calf in hopes of reuniting the two. So, on October 21, MEP rangers went on patrol to look for the mother. They were very lucky and found her wandering around the same area the baby was found. They quickly took a MEP patrol vehicle over to gather the baby and safely transported him to be reunited with his mother.