World Wildlife Day 2019: Life Below Water

While protecting elephants in the Maasai Mara in Kenya seems like a world away from protecting life below water for both people and planet, Mara Elephant Project actually does a lot of work that ties directly into that. The Mau Forest is a forest complex located in the Rift Valley of Kenya and is the single most important water catchment for the Mara River, the life force behind all flora, fauna and wildlife in the Mara. The Mau Forest has some of the highest rainfall rates in Kenya and is the largest drainage basin for the Mara River, it’s also home to an estimated 600 elephants. Unfortunately, the elephant carrying capacity of forests in Kenya is heavily threatened by anthropogenic pressures like land encroachment for settlement, forest degradation through grazing, fires, illegal logging for timber, charcoal and firewood, and wildlife poaching.

MEP has addressed these concerns by setting up a permanent MEP Mau Team in the eastern portion of the forest that consists of rangers from MEP, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) all funded by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT). This team’s objectives include conducting regular patrols to monitor elephants and provide rapid response to safeguard elephants and other wildlife from poaching and human-elephant conflict. These activities include taking down snares, rooting out illegal poaching and logging operations, intervening in human-elephant conflict situations and fostering positive community relations. The SWT Mau De-Snaring Unit patrols the forest based on the operational orders of MEP and areas previously covered, local intelligence, and the movement data of the two collared elephants in the area will help inform these orders. The SWT provided funding for the establishment of this team and their permanent presence is paramount to protecting the elephant population in the Mau Forest currently estimated at 652 down from 1,003 in 2005 and in the first year of operation, they’ve had many great successes. In June, the unit split into two to cover a wider area of the Mau Forest and we are happy to see that DSWT will continue with supporting this team’s important work through 2019.

Our rapid response units having a permanent presence in the forest enforces with the surrounding communities that MEP is here to keep elephants and communities safe and to protect the ecosystem from further destruction. Rooting out illegal logging operations, arresting poachers and mitigating human-elephant conflict in the forest will not only reduce the percentage of illegally killed elephants (PIKE) in the forest, it will also ensure the well-being of communities bordering this endangered habitat.

The Mara River is not only vital to the communities and wildlife living in the Mara, it also flows into Lake Victoria home to a diverse population of underwater wildlife. Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area and the world’s largest tropical lake. In 2010, an IUCN Red List assessment studied 191 fish species in Lake Victoria and found that 45% are threatened or thought to be extinct. The interconnectedness of the forests, savannas and rivers in Kenya is always at the forefront of MEP’s mission. When we protect elephants, as an umbrella species, and the habitats upon which they depend, there is a trickle-down effect for every living thing.