Mara Elephant Project relies on funding partners like TUSK Trust to help support vital operations that fulfill MEP’s mission to protect elephants to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem. In 2018, MEP was the recipient of a $50,000 grant from TUSK that went toward re-collaring Kegol (pictured left) and Caroline, two keystone elephants in the Mara ecosystem, and the purchase and maintenance of two motorbikes.
A MEP ranger on one of the two new motorbikes provided by funding from TUSK.
Motorbikes are becoming more and more useful to MEP rangers in both intelligence operations and data collection. Part of the work these two motorbikes provided by TUSK are being used for is to map fences in the Mara ecosystem. Fences are becoming a big problem for elephants in the Mara as they are popping up along traditional corridors and elephants and other wildlife are then becoming stuck in communities and are unable to move freely between conservancies.
An elephant moving into a fenced in area.
The most recent example of this is MEP’s collared elephant, Olchoda. This large bull is a known crop raider and in July and August was causing quite a lot of destruction in Munyas. He was crop raiding farms that were fenced and would often become stuck in between fences and unable to move on to safety. The MEP rangers responded and deployed the MEP toolkit of best practices for mitigating human-elephant conflict and keeping Olchoda out of the farms. After three days of vigilant efforts, they successfully moved him out of the farm areas; however, both the fence and Olchoda did its damage. Several days after he moved away from this area MEP received an immobility alert on his collar. MEP rangers found his collar dropped off after being severed near the counter weight at the bottom of the neck from what they suspect was a fence (pictured left). Unfortunately, MEP will now need to spend the money and resources to re-collar Olchoda and, with MEP’s help, the community is now picking up the pieces from the damage he created.
It’s hard to say there is a winner or a loser in this scenario; however, what we can say is that fencing is not a good option for keeping elephants out of farms. Instead, it might actually do the opposite and keep them stuck in villages when they are trying to move out. Regardless MEP knew that in response to this problem, we needed to map the fences in the Mara ecosystem. (pictured right: MEP rangers inspecting a fence an elephant damaged.)
So, starting in March, we began mapping fences that now have been added to Google Earth in order to create geo-fences that will electronically alert us when one of our collared elephants is nearby. A geo-fence is a virtual fence barrier that MEP is able to set up one kilometer from an actual fenced in area that will give our rangers time to intervene when an elephant is moving toward a community. Traditional fences were not originally included in our geo-fence database so mapping them was necessary and the best and most cost-effective way to do that was via motorbike.
TUSK provided the funding for MEP to purchase two motorbikes in February that have allowed us to map over three hundred new fences around farms in the ecosystem. Motorbikes are more cost effective to use versus a traditional MEP vehicle and can easily and quickly access farms around the ecosystem for mapping purposes.
The TUSK provided motorbike.
When rangers are mapping these fences on the motorbikes they are using Garmin devices, also provided by funding from TUSK, to do so. The Garmin devices are providing accurate tracks of the fences that are needed to position them on Google Earth. These devises send location points every two minutes via satellite to our office via DAS. Additionally, Dr. Jake Wall has developed an app that’s used to map roads, which has been helpful when collecting fence coordinates and populating the geo-fence database.
While at this stage we are almost complete with our fence mapping project, every day new fences in the ecosystem are being erected so we have to stay vigilant and keep directing resources into this endeavor. When the motorbikes aren’t being used for fence mapping, they’ve also been deployed by the MEP intelligence unit and patrol units to access areas of the ecosystem that might be harder to reach in a vehicle and much cheaper to operate.
A MEP ranger using the motorbike while out on patrol.
They are also very useful for undercover intelligence operations when gathering information from informants or rooting out poachers as they do not attract as much attention as a vehicle because many people in the Mara use motorbikes as a means of transportation. The motorbikes TUSK provided were used for an operation in February that led to the arrest of three suspects and the seizure of 18.4 kg of ivory (pictured left). During the operation the motorbikes allowed our undercover rangers to appear as any other community member passing by the poachers that had the ivory on them to offer them a ride. Once the poachers were on our motorbikes with the rangers, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were then called in to stop the motorbikes and make an arrest. You can see how useful this would be versus a large Land Cruiser which are typically only operated by the camps or NGOs in the area.
Overall, the new motorbikes that TUSK provided have become an invaluable tool for MEP’s rangers to use that have contribute to both the mitigation of human-elephant conflict and the arrest of poachers.