Sidekick Foundation, Inc. DBA Mara Elephant Project

501(c)(3) - Charity | Carmel, IN | Verified

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Mara Elephant Project (MEP) was established in 2011 with the mission of protecting elephants to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem. The Maasai Mara ecosystem, an extension of the vast Serengeti ecosystem, is Kenya’s most important wildlife area and tourism asset. Although Kenya outlawed the hunting of elephants in 1973 and CITES established a total ban on the sale of ivory in 1989, human-elephant conflict (HEC) and poaching increased. The Mara elephant population numbers held relatively steady until 2010, when 3,162 were counted by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF total count in 2014 revealed a marked decline to 1,488, the lowest number in 30 years. In the Kenya portion of the ecosystem, people and wildlife peacefully co-existed when space for both did not overlap; however, as the human population has grown, the rangeland demand for livestock and farming has increased, pushing wild animals into smaller areas.

MEP was developed to fill a gap in protecting elephants outside of conservancies and protected areas in the Mara ecosystem. Elephants that are “safe” in the Mara have been in the formally protected Maasai Mara National Reserve and the informally protected conservancies. As a result, most of the illegal killing of elephants, and hence the work MEP does, is concentrated in an unprotected area of 11,500 km2 outside these areas. MEP believes that by protecting elephants we are also protecting the greater Mara ecosystem. To better understand and address the poaching issue, where the elephant rangeland extends beyond protected areas, MEP’s developed a three-part program called the MEP Method. The MEP Method to protecting elephants in the greater Mara ecosystem includes anti-poaching patrols and rapid response units, elephant collaring, monitoring and research and human-elephant conflict mitigation.

MEP has deployed a total of 57 rangers in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 2018 supported a permanent ranger unit in the Mau Forest, adding six new rangers to our formidable team, a far cry from the eight rangers we started with. MEP employs three intelligence officers who have been at the center of many arrests and seizures. Since 2011, MEP and the Kenya Wildlife Service have arrested 354 total poachers which has resulted in the seizure of 1,493 kilograms of ivory. MEP’s presence in the Mara has resulted in less elephant deaths due to poaching. In 2012, 96 elephants were poached for their ivory in the Mara ecosystem, in 2017, that total fell to four and remained steady into 2018. This is a reduction in the percentage of illegally killed elephants (PIKE) in 2012 from 83% to 24% in 2018.

The most concerning trend in 2018 in regard to poaching in the Mara is bushmeat poaching. Snares are strands of wire usually strung up between two tree trunks low to the ground. They are often used to catch zebra and wildebeest, so they can be sold illegally for bushmeat. This is a very common form of poaching in the Mara and one MEP patrol units often run into. In 2018, MEP ranger units removed 324 snares in our area of operation, the most coming from the SWT Mau De-Snaring Unit operating in the threatened Mau Forest.

MEP has also established a strong working relationship with key partners and is on the cutting edge of deploying innovative techniques and technologies for anti-poaching and human-elephant conflict mitigation. One such technique is the building of chili fences using recycled motor oil and chili powder which upsets the elephant’s sensitive sense of smell. Since 2011, MEP has built 38 km of chili fence and trained 540 farmers. MEP began our elephant collaring program in 2011 and in total have collared 48 elephants across the rangeland. These elephants enable us to not only monitor the movements of elephants and protect them, but also determine the extent of their range. Using the data collected from these collared elephants MEP is working on providing a number of indicators for informing and implementing the national Elephant Action Plan and future spatial ecosystem plans that protect the Mara’s wildlife and the habitat upon which they depend.

In that last seven years (2011-2018), MEP has increased our presence on the ground, reduced poaching, expanded our partnership network, effectively used innovative techniques and technologies to mitigate conflict, increased our community activism and engagement and expanded our elephant research program. MEP’s goals include focusing on the protection of elephants and the conservation of the Mara ecosystem by increasing our research efforts all while investing in the education of local communities who live alongside wildlife and the future generation of Kenyans who will inherit this complicated mission.

The Mara Elephant Project is a registered trust in Kenya and operates on a non-profit basis. The Sidekick Foundation does business as MEP in the USA and is a 501(c)3 registered charity. We are active on both Facebook and Instagram, @maraelephantproject, and continually update our blog and send out quarterly newsletters to promote transparency and engage supporters.

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