Mt. Elgon is world famous for its “cave elephants”. New research is showing the elephants visit numerous caves (Kitum being the best known), sometimes penetrating up to 150m deep into the mountain. They usually do this at night and in the pitch black, following ancient and boulder strewn pathways. High rainfall leaches many of the minerals from the surface soil which, in turn, causes the deficiency of the much-needed minerals by the elephants. To supplement their mineral poor diet, the elephants “mine” the soft, mineral rich walls and floors of the caves.
In an exciting project launched in May 2017, the East African Wildlife Society’s Mount Elgon Elephant Project (EAWLS-MEEP), founded by Dr Emmanuel Ndiema, Christopher Powles and others, seeks to understand more about this poorly studied yet fascinating population of elephants. A key objective of the EAWLS-MEEP is to collect the relevant data so that evidence-based recommendations can be made to mitigate the threats to this threatened and unique elephant population.
Images courtesy Steve Powles
With an ever-increasing demand for land and changing land use on the mountain, human-elephant conflict is on the increase. Some farmers have already lost their lives as they attempt to protect their livelihoods from crop raiding elephants. Knowing where this conflict is likely to occur, and why, is critical to saving lives and the long-term survival of the elephants of Mt. Elgon.
EAWLS – MEEP works in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS). A team of four scouts (recruited from the local community) and some KWS rangers were trained in July 2019 to collect the necessary data using “Cybertracker” technology. Using this technology installed on smart phones, the scouts and rangers gather information such as elephant sightings, the location of human-elephant conflict (e.g. crop raiding), illegal human activities (like evidence of charcoal burning and snaring) and the location of caves. The data collection point is automatically given a GPS coordinate by the smart phone. Once collected, the data has, to date, been downloaded manually for analysis requiring regular visits to Mt. Elgon by EAWLS-MEEP staff. However, with the recent introduction of “SMART Connect”, this has been made easy and efficient as the scouts and rangers are able to directly upload the data collected from their phones and hence the data can be received real time, analysed and alerts issued in a timely fashion rather than only being available after a long delay.
In an important development, early in February 2020, Jabes Okumu (Wildlife Programme Manager, EAWLS), Lizbeth Mate (Project Manager, EAWLS-MEEP) and Clarine Kigoli (Data Analysis, EAWLS-MEEP) travelled to Mt. Elgon to introduce the concept of the technology to new KWS senior staff and train the scouts plus KWS staff in how to implement SMART Connect.
With EAWLS-MEEP having now deployed both Cybertracker and Smart Connect on Mt Elgon, the collection and transfer of data has been greatly enhanced. It is hoped that it will not be long before evidence – based recommendation can be made to benefit both the wildlife and the community on Mt Elgon.
MEEP is, in part, funded by the Mount Elgon Foundation (MEF). MEF is a UK-based charity set up to protect the natural and cultural heritage Mt. Elgon. It is working in close collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and the Elephant Crisis Fund, a joint initiative of Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network, in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
To read more about the project, kindly purchase or make reference to the EAWLS Swara Magazine 2019 4th edition (Oct-Dec).
If you would like to support EAWLS – MEEP in its efforts to conserve the elephants of Mt. Elgon please go to:
Crowdfunding page: www.gofundme.com/f/mt-elgon-elephant-project
Or for more information contact:
Christopher Powles: + (44) (0)1869 350 978, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mount Elgon Foundation, Reg. No. 1186668