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Elephant Partners - Maasai Mara

In early 2011 ElephantVoices launched "Elephant Partners", an elephant conservation project based in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The goal of Elephant Partners is to develop a working model for citizens to monitor and protect elephants. The first half of 2011 will be a pilot period - while we continue to prepare and fundraise for the main phase of the project which will start later in the year.

The concept, put simply, is to connect individual people - guides, scouts, rangers, researchers, photographers, tourists, people of the Maasai Mara and all people who care - with the lives of individual elephants. Through use of the Internet and social and educational media our intention is to develop a community of people sharing their knowledge about the Mara elephants and working together to protect them. Harambee is a Kiswahili word meaning working together for a common purpose. It is our belief that this harambee spirit can engender the understanding, compassion, enthusiasm and collective custodianship needed for people and elephants to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. We hope that it will also help to focus attention on, and bolster the important work of, the newly formed conservancies, since the future of elephants and other landscape species depends upon their commercial success.

We are building an online searchable database to store elephant identification photographs - so that people (Maasai Mara residents, visitors and friends worldwide) can get to know elephants by name. And we will be preparing an online database and blog where Mara friends can upload observations, photos and comments on Mara elephants (their behavior, movements, interactions, conflicts, threats, etc.) to share with other participants, the authorities and the general public. Through the use of mobile phones we will be developing an efficient way for people to collect and upload observations.


Matriarch f0001 seen in 1998 near Musiara swamp...


...and 12 years later on Mara Naboisho Conservancy 50 km to
the east. (Photos ©ElephantVoices)


Elephants are an iconic landscape species

Elephants attract global attention because they are both charismatic and threatened, and because they play an important role in the structure of ecosystems. Due to their immense size, sociality and intelligence, they also serve as important Ambassadors for other species. If we are able to save space for elephants, we will protect the other species, along with them.

Current ecological theory argues that elephants are best conserved through the management of linkages between landscapes, which can account for their large-scale movements. When elephants are confined by fences, by conflict with people or by threats from poachers they can have a negative impact on habitat and, consequently, on biodiversity. But when they are permitted to roam, their presence and foraging creates a mosaic of habitats that promotes biodiversity.

Being intelligent social animals, elephants learn where they are safe with extraordinary speed. They are vulnerable to ivory poaching and conflict with people, and respond to these threats from people with amplified aggression or by retreating into protected habitats for safety. As long as poaching and conflict remain threats to elephants, how can these crucial ecological linkages be maintained? This is where the Maasai Mara Conservancies and the behavior of people is so important.

People and elephants need a mutually beneficial relationship

To encourage elephants to use a wider area and, simultaneously, reduce human-elephant conflict, elephants need access to a network of places where they feel safe that are away from areas where elephant cause conflict. Such safe-havens can be provided by a mosaic of protected areas, conservancies, private and community land where, concurrently, people can benefit through tourism from the presence of elephants. Smart land use, goodwill, understanding and effort are needed to build a relationship between people and elephants that works to the advantage of both parties. Compassion is also a crucial ingredient in this relationship that is often missing in conservation projects (see new conservation movement www.compassionateconservation.org) and is key to the community Elephant Partners hopes to engender.

To achieve its vision Elephant Partners must serve and belong to everyone: The many conservancies (Mara, Mara North, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oiroua, Enonkishu, Motorogi, Olare Orok, Mara Naboisho, Ol Kinyei, see map), Kenya Wildlife Service, Maasai Mara National Reserve, members of the local community, the tourism sector and members of the general public. Elephant Partners will have a base in centrally located Mara Naboisho Conservancy, which is also home to the Koiyaki Guiding School, an important collaborator in this initiative.

Follow the Mara elephants - join Elephant Partners!

We are reliant upon on collaboration and participation to build an enthusiastic and committed team of Elephant Partners! Read updates here on ElephantVoices.org, on ElephantVoices on Facebook and on Elephant Partners on Facebook.

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