Joyce is from 19th February and for a 10 day period in Maasai Mara, meeting up with and training some of the people that are contributing elephant observations to the Elephant Partners initiative. On this page you will, with the help of a cellphone app and Google Earth, find out a bit more about where she is going, and what she sees together with our collaborators. The infrequent "reports" below are mainly meant to give you a peak, while we also gain some experience in new ways of collecting data and sharing field experiences with those interested. We will later post a more comprehensive report from Joyce's current field visit.
It may a bit of time before the page loads, depending on your connection speed. By clicking on each point on the map you will find a photo, with a caption. We hope you will enjoy being with us in the bush!
Joyce looking for elephant signs from Olerai to Enchorro Ololali - seeing many.
Wonderful day with Gini Cowell and David Kimutai starting from Siana through Ol Kinyei and on to Mara Naboisho where we picked up Derrick Nabaala. Saw perhaps 100 elephants and returned to Siana at end of day.
Petter and I just returned from a fabulous field trip in and around the Maasai Mara. We had a wonderful time and we learned a lot, too! We had far too little time just being with elephants, but in the context of involving others in conserving the Mara elephants, that was ok. One main goal during our tour through the ecosystem was to present the unique Mara Elephants Who's Who & Whereabouts databases - developed as part of the Elephant Partners conservation initiative.
The Mara Elephants Who's Who is populated with over 750 elephants and the Whereabouts hold some 400 sightings of elephant groups; both are continuing to grow by the day. The Mapping functionality, which draws on both databases, is completely searchable and highly informative. With each additional sighting we learn something new - and we hope that you will, too.
Elephants respond rapidly to change
The Mara ecosystem represents a patchwork of different habitats, management strategies, and human interventions that create a mosaic of threats and opportunities for elephants. We are beginning to learn how elephants respond to these, and it is fascinating. Some areas are almost entirely occupied by family groups, while males prefer other areas. Although this is typical of elephants, the pattern in the Mara is, to a large extent, influenced by human activities. And these are in flux. The new conservancies are providing safe havens for elephants that didn't exist only a few years ago; migration routes have been blocked by settlement; agricultural areas are on the increase offering nutritious forage; and poaching is on the rise. The elephants are learning and responding rapidly.
We started our field trip in Mara Naboisho Conservancy on 6th October, where we joined a couple of Norwegian groups hosted by Basecamp Wilderness who had requested a special introduction to elephants. There we also continued our work with African Impact and their volunteers, and gave a lecture on elephants to the students at Koiyaki Guiding School (KGS). Founded seven years ago, KGS is a very successful endeavor - educating local youth for careers in the tourism industry. Through KGS the percentage of local employees in camps and lodges is growing. These students are important ambassadors for the Mara, for wildlife and for elephants! We also spent a day on Ol Kinyei Conservancy where we met with Jake Grieves-Cook, Porini Camps.
Between 13-19th October we worked in Nairobi with our programmers to perfect an Android-based mobile phone application, the Mara EleApp. The App allows for the collection and upload of field data on elephant group sightings, injury and sickness as well as detailed mortality information.
Diminutive female elephant on Olderikesi
On 20th October we drove to Olderikesi Conservancy on the eastern side of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. There we were generously hosted by Calvin Cottar at his 1920s Safari Camp and were introduced by Keith Hellyer to the challenges of the area. While there we were able to add 6 groups to the Whereabouts and 16 new elephants to the Who's Who, including a diminutive female elephant, f0341. The elephants on the eastern side of the Mara gather in large groups and two of those we observed were aggregations of at least 70 elephants.
We spent the next few days back on Mara Naboisho Conservancy in the company of three ElephantVoices donors/volunteers: Junia Machado and Ana Zinger from Brazil and Elena Fieni from Italy. During our stay there we had the pleasure of meeting a group of 85 elephants. Although we knew many of the individuals, about half of the families were new, including a right-one tusked female with an old wound on her right hind leg, probably caused by a spear years ago. We also spent more time with African Impact and introduced to field coordinator, Lincoln Njiru, one of the ten phones for data collection donated by IFAW.
More training of scouts and guides
On 26th October we drove west to Olchorro Conservancy where we stayed at Richard's Camp and met with Richard Roberts, Iain Douglas-Hamilton (Save The Elephants) and Mark Goss who are coordinating the new Mara Elephant Project (MEP). We also had the pleasure of flying with Iain and Richard to look for elephants and areas hit by poaching and conflict. We were introduced to some of the MEP scouts and had the opportunity to watch a parade by conservancy scout recruits.
On 30th we drove to Olare Orok Conservancy where experienced the kind hospitality of Ron and Pauline Beaton. While there we also met with Conservancy Manager, Rob O'Meara, and his wife, Sarah, and Warden, James Kaigil. Sarah shared her Olare Orok elephant photographs with us to help us build up the Mara Elephant Who's Who, and is also organising the use of a phone with the Mara EleApp on Olare Orok and Motorogi Conservancies.
In the hope of meeting new elephants we were taken to neighboring Motorogi Conservancy by the Warden. We were delighted to find a group of 30, which turned out to be Big Mama and her large family. It was wonderful to see her there - she has now been spotted in four separate areas of the Mara and our knowledge of her home range is expanding! We also stopped in to visit guides, Meshack Sayialel at Porini Lion Camp and Ping'ua Nkukuu at Mara Plains, to explain the functionality of the Mara EleApp and to encourage their participation.
Meeting up with old friends - and making some new
We proceeded on to the western side of the Mara where we were guests of Sanctuary Olonana. There we met Marcus Westberg who shared his beautiful photographs of elephants in Mara Conservancy. On 4th November we met Asuka Takita at Mara Conservancy headquarters to catch up with her news and to explain to her the use of the Mara EleApp. From there we proceeded over Mara Bridge and through the Mara Reserve to Basecamp near Talek. Along the way we covered new ground and discovered "new" elephants. We were also pleased to meet a few individuals who were already in the Who's Who. Among others, we met the well-known asymmetrical tusk matriarch, f0576, as well as f0246 with a newly broken left tusk.
The following day we trained Basecamp Guide, Agness Kilena, to collect elephant observations and to use the Mara EleApp.
The end of a fascinating Mara tour
On 6th we proceeded to our final destination, Siana Conservancy, where we stayed with Nick, Betsy, Will and Gini Cowell. Siana has experienced substantial ivory poaching this year and it was not surprising to see that the elephants there were wary. Gini is now working with us, representing Elephant Aware, collecting vital data on the elephants who use this part of the ecosystem.
On our way out of the Mara we passed by Sekenani, to follow up our contact with Park Warden, James Sindyio. During an informative two-hour meeting we discussed all kinds of issues, and collected our permit to access the Reserve when needed. Approaching Narok we made one last stop at the Kenya Wildlife Service District Office to meet with KWS Veterinarian Dominic Mijele. Dominic treats many elephants in the Mara and beyond and we felt that he would be a good person to have the last phone.
Plenty of challenges ahead - join Elephant Partners!
The Mara ecosystem is facing plenty of challenges, with human population growth, poaching and over-grazing to name a few. The need to find ways for humans and wildlife to live in more harmony is ever more critical for all stakeholders - including elephants. Telling both sides of the story is what Elephant Partners is about. By engaging people in the lives of elephants, we are building a community of people that care. Together we'll ensure the survival of the Mara elephants and their habitat. Help us make Elephant Partners go viral - participation of many is key to the future of the Mara elephants! Join us on Facebook, and spread the word.
We deeply appreciate the support and collaboration of the many people and entities mentioned in this informal travel report - and we very much look forward to be back. Thank you!
We're grateful to the organizations, companies and individuals below for making this project possible. We also greatly appreciate our collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service, the Narok County Council, the Conservancies and Group Ranches, the Mara Elephant Project and other stakeholders of the Mara ecosystem and its elephants.
Doug Aja, Pat Awory, Kerstin Bucher, Gini Cowell, Bertrand Dumont, Ole Bernt Frøshaug, Marc Goss, Keith Hellyer, Dana Jones, Agness Kilena, Lynne Leakey, Jonna Nielsen, Dominic Mijele, Divya Mudappa, Derrick Nabaala, Gina Poole, Linda Porter, Mike Rainy, Gordon Shaw, Amos Ole Tininah, Kalyan Varma and other individuals.
More than 2,000 elephants in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, were slaughtered during the civil war between 1977 and 1992. Around 5% of the population made it through - the number has since increased to between 300-400. Even today many elephants are still wary of people. I am spending almost two weeks with these elephants now in August/September 2011 assessing ways to calm down these traumatised survivors of a gruesome war.
By turning off the car engine when the elephants we meet behave fearfully or aggressively, we show them that we respect them, understand their signals, mean no harm and are not afraid of their bravado. After charging us twice this particular family became relaxed in our presence. Today they were calm.
Joyce, 31 August 2011
The triple tuskless family bunched together as the matriarch decided how to respond to our approach.
The matriarch charges at us and I immediately turn off the engine and we sit quietly. No driving away, revving of the engine, banging on the car, or shouting at her.
The rest of the family, including babies, charge forward as the matriarch stands tall, threatening us.
The triple tuskless family threaten us as I talk to them in a soft, reassuring voice; they calm down and move away. Later that day, and today, when we met them again they were relaxed in our presence.
Over many years of studying animals ethologists learn to read the faces and postures of their subjects through a combination of experience and intuition. We unconsciously use this information whenever we're with elephants without really thinking about the process. We know, for example, whether an elephant is frightened, annoyed, excited, or joyful, but attempting to quantify this "sixth sense" into a presentation for others has been an elucidating and sometimes surprising process!
The visual and tactile signals, displays, postures, expressions and gestures described and illustrated in this database have been compiled over a period of many months, even years. We believe you will enjoy visiting it! You can read more about the background of the database here.
During January and February we (Petter and Joyce) spent some very productive weeks in the Mara ecosystem getting the pilot phase of Elephant Partners up and running. Our primary purpose during this trip was to learn as much as possible about the Mara elephants and the challenges they are facing, while fine-tuning the scope of the project and testing out equipment and technical solutions for data collection and upload. We visited five different conservancies and three group ranches, met up with many stakeholders and potential collaborators, trained quite a few conservancy scouts and guides and held lectures about elephants, their behavior and the Elephant Partners initiative.
Joyce's trip started on Mara Naboisho Conservancy, where we plan to establish a base for the project. Mara Naboisho is a new 200 sq km conservancy, initiated by Norwegian-based Basecamp Explorer/Foundation and 502 Maasai landowners. Mara Naboisho is an amazing area in terms of wildlife and habitat, and together with neighbouring conservancies a crucial landscape for protecting the world famous wildebeest migration between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara as well as for general movement of wildlife, including elephants.
Joyce spent several days on Mara Naboisho training instructors of African Impact. The organisation offers volunteer work in Africa and Elephant Partners is on their list of opportunities. African Impact is also helping us to test out techniques and equipment for monitoring elephants and sharing information.
During those few days together we added 47 new individuals to Elephant Partners ID registry and resighted quite a few who we had seen before. The most exciting resighting was the beautiful female f0096 who was last seen in 1998 40 kilometers away.
While at Mara Naboisho Joyce gave a lecture to a women's group and another to the newly graduated conservancy scouts. She also discussed the development of educational material by ElephantVoices for the Koiyaki Guiding School.
On Mara North Conservancy Joyce was generously hosted by Karen Blixen Camp and spent three days training Cille Willumsgård, a young Danish woman who is collaborating with us as part of her Master's field work supported by Karen Blixen Camp. Petter joined Joyce and Cille there and we discussed the project with the Conservancy Manager, Marc Goss. During the three days with Cille we added about 35 elephants to the registry and Cille has since then built the number up to over 150 individuals. She will be sending her photographs to us later this month so that these individuals can be incorporated into the overall Elephant Partners ID registry. It will be interesting to see how many of these individuals have already been registered. We know of at least two: a crazy looking female with 3 tusks (photo below) and a magnificent male (video below). However, Cille observed both of these individuals inside the Maasai Mara National Reserve rather than on Mara North Conservancy.
The photographs really help us to understand where individual elephants are moving, and we are very curious to know how far afield the elephants from Mara North go. These particular elephants face enormous levels of conflict with people. Understanding their movement patterns will help to mitigate the threats and ease the relationship between people and elephants.
Mara female with three tusks - f0245.
We left Mara North Conservancy and spent a day on Mara Conservancy, where we held discussions with manager, Brian Heath, and veterinarian, Asuka Takita, who has contributed hundreds of ID photographs to Elephant Partners. On our way out of the conservancy we met the magnificent musth male who Cille later photographed - the male in the video above right.
By evening we were back on Olare Orok Conservancy, where we were hosted by eco-friendly Porini Lion Camp. There we held discussions with the Conservancy Manager, Rob O'Meara, introduced elephants and the project to scouts and guides and gave a lecture on elephant behavior and conservation to them. Naturally we also spent quite a bit of time just watching and photographing elephants. Among the many elephants we met was a resighting of f0004 who Joyce photographed in 1998 in Musiara. We also met a large group of elephants that included a female who had been photographed near Governor's Camp in 2007 by our friend Doug Aja! Each photograph is a piece in the jig saw puzzle!
From Olare Orok we spent a few more days back on Mara Naboisho before proceeding to Ol Kinyei Conservancy, where we discussed the Elephant Partners initiative with Manager, Sammy Lempusia. We were fortunate enough to meet an elephant family group who we then sighted again on Mara Naboisho several days later.
From there we drove on to the rather bumpy main road between Sekenani Gate and Narok, met up with Stephen Kisotu of Friends of Conservation and proceeded with him to Maji Moto Group Ranch. We spent three days with Stephen who introduced us to some of the opportunities (primarily the remaining corridors) and threats (mainly human-elephant conflict) facing elephants on the eastern side of the Maasai Mara. Stephen Kisotu introduced us to Maasai elder, Salaton ole Ntutu, and we more than enjoyed our stay at his Maji Moto Camp.
Salaton was well conversant with the problems facing elephants and people and together we discussed how to alleviate conflict by providing water for elephants away from the village (elephants come to the Maji Moto spring at night and depart early in the morning, endangering children on their way to school). We had fun and interesting visit to Enkiteng Lepa School, assessing how Elephant Partners possibly can contribute toward the conservation of elephants through education via the big network of schools in the Mara ecosystem.
From Maji Moto we went on to Naikarra Group Ranch, where Stephen (with whom we stayed) introduced us to the remaining elephant corridors and the growing human-elephant conflict due to land being turned over to agriculture. Stephen explains the conflict in the short video clip (right), while we were visiting an area of new settlements in traditional "elephant country".
We departed Naikarra arriving back at Mara Naboisho in time to meet Richard Roberts who flew in from Ol Chorro Conservancy. Richard is setting up a rapid response team to reduce human-elephant conflict and related elephant mortality on the western side of the Mara.
His initiative will be receiving help from Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, who will be placing tracking collars on 10-15 elephants to monitor movement patterns in relation to conflict. We will be collaborating closely with both of them.
Joyce departed from the Mara the following day and spent the next day in Nairobi discussing Mara elephant plans with Iain while Petter remained in the Mara and got stranded in the bush with clutch problems! After sorting out the clutch and holding several more meetings Petter proceeded to Nairobi to initiate the building of online housing for all of the elephant information we hope to collect and share with you.
We look forward to working with the many people we met on our journey - a harambee spirit (Harambee is a Kiswahili word meaning working together for a common purpose) is vital for the conservation of the Mara elephants and a successful Elephant Partners!