Saving Migrating Elephants – The Mara Elephant Project


By Dr. Lucy King, Save the Elephants

Date Published

The Maasai Mara, an extension of the vast Serengeti ecosystem, is one of Kenya’s most important wild­life areas and a tourism asset. The Maasai people own the land with elephants occurring throughout the reserve and adjoining community conservation areas. Surprisingly little is known about elephant movements between and within the greater Mara/ Serengeti landscape but human population growth and development have seen a rise in human-elephant conflict (HEC) and illegal killing, resulting in a need for management orientated research and community based conservation.

The Mara Elephant Project (MEP), established in July 2011 and funded by the generosity of The Globe Foundation and The Heritage Group, starts a three year programme with the vision of securing a future for elephants in the greater Mara Ecosystem. With expertise in elephant tracking technology, Save the Elephants has partnered with Kenya Wild­life Service (KWS), Mara North Conservancy and Richard’s Camp to develop a long-term, Elephant Tracking Project and Quick Response Unit with the following aims:

To define elephant movement patterns and cor­ridors.

To understand the cross border movements of elephants into the adjoining Serengeti plains in Tanzania, providing a basis for improved wildlife management collaboration between Kenya and Tanzania.

To alleviate HEC by providing elephant move­ment data to KWS and other key stakeholders.

To improve security of individual elephants through daily monitoring.

Save the Elephants has developed elephant tracking technology in Kenya since the mid 1990’s and their specialised, innovative custom tools for use within ESRI software cleans and verifies GPS data, producing a standard analysis and reporting frame­work. A key output of this unique tracking capability is the functionality to display elephant movements on Google Earth in near real time. This spectacular visual tool allows wardens, rangers, and community scouts to use the information to monitor hourly elephant movements as well as engaging children in elephant conservation.

In December 2011, five female and five male ele­phants were collared with the latest satellite tracking collars manufactured by the South African com­pany, African Wildlife Tracking. Elephants selected for collaring were suspected of being crop raiders, transboundary migrators or at risk from carrying particularly large tusks. Maps produced by Save the Elephants show coloured circles representing the hourly position of each of ten collared elephants as they migrate between the national reserve, com­munity conservancies and the Serengeti in Tanzania. Using this remote monitoring tool, the elephants are assessed every day for any unusual behaviour. Should an elephant stop moving or display erratic behaviour, Save the Elephants liaises immediately with the MEP Quick Response Unit to send out a patrol team that checks the status of the elephant. This speed of response is already helping anti-poaching efforts and better community relations.

This multi-faceted project combining innovative tracking technology with well equipped, skilled personnel on the ground will improve pro­tection and enhance understanding of elephant be­haviour in the greater Mara/Serengeti ecosystem. It will hopefully inspire other transboundary research projects to adopt similar collaborative approaches in the future.