World Elephant Day is an opportunity to draw attention to the conservation issues facing elephants across Africa and Asia. The Explorations Company’s charitable arm, Explorations Plus, has engaged with several elephant conservation projects in order to use tourism funding as part of their efforts to support local elephant populations.
Elephants face many daily challenges. Elephants, as well as other species, are threatened by an increasing human population. As a result, elephants are vulnerable to habitat loss from deforestation to meet agricultural and housing demands.
Land is often fragmented with fencing, blocking key migration routes. There is also human-elephant conflict for limited available resources, such as water and grass for livestock, as well as threats from variable weather patterns, such as drought. In addition, poaching still exists to meet the international demand in ivory.
Elephants are ‘environmental engineers’, a keystone species that play a central role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. They are intelligent, with the capacity to store information and remember details for years, not just skills necessary for their survival but social learning too. Furthermore, scientists have recently discovered that elephants use their trunk for a simplified version of sign language.
On World Elephant Day, I would like to emphasise some of the ongoing work and recent achievements for elephant conservation in Africa:
Established in 2010 by photographer Nick Brandt, award-winning conservationist Richard Bonham, and entrepreneur Tom Hill, Big Life Foundation operates over 1.6 million acres across the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro (Great Amboseli) ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania. Maasai rangers from local communities help to protect and secure wildlife and critical habitat stretching from the rangelands north of Amboseli to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West national parks in the east, and south to Kilimanjaro National Park.
The area is a central connection point for migrating wildlife and contains some of the most important habitat left in Africa. This ecosystem is home to the largest elephant populations in East Africa, where they are under constant pressure from ivory poaching and retaliatory killing by farmers or pastoralists.
Winning the hearts and minds of the community and providing a mutual benefit through conservation is the only way to protect wildlife and wildlands far into the future. To that end, Big Life provides a number of services in support of the community, including education and healthcare initiatives, and also lesser-known activities, such as using ranger vehicles as ambulances, arresting criminals for community crimes (e.g. theft), conducting human and/or livestock search and rescue operations.
Big Life invests in the future of participating communities by funding teachers’ salaries, providing scholarship funds for local students, and implementing conservation-specific curriculum in classrooms and communities.
During 2019, Big Life deployed 249 rangers and trained 239 rangers. They arrested 126 poaching suspects and 14 cases were concluded. More than 717kg of ivory was also recovered. There were 264 crop-raiding incidents responded to, of which 258 involved elephants. Furthermore, 3,172 students were reached through a conservation curriculum and 11 mobile health clinics were conducted.
There are approximately 130,000 to 150,000 elephants in Botswana, the largest population in the world (which makes Botswana the best place to see elephants on safari). Established in 2007 by behavioural biologist, Dr Kate Evans, Elephants for Africa is a small charity that operates in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the surrounding communities in Northern Botswana.
Elephants for Africa works towards human-elephant coexistence in rural farming communities. This is accomplished through research, collaboration with local and international researchers to deliver scientific data to local decision-makers, as well as a series of community outreach and environmental outreach programmes. These programmes focus on empowering local communities and developing the conservation leaders of the future, including monthly EleFun activities in local primary schools.
Elephants for Africa focus their research on male elephants, which present more changes to conservation than breeding herds. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and surrounding area is home to a predominately bull population (98 percent of sightings to-date).
Bull elephants cover greater distances, often breaking through fences and roaming close to human settlements where they can be responsible for crop-raiding, damage to property, and occasionally, fatal interactions with humans. Although breeding herds can cause these issues, throughout their range, males are the main crop raiders.
During the 2018/19-year, 42 farmers were enrolled in the Community Coexistence Project in Khumaga and 10 farmer-owned chilli plots were built on farmers’ community and cattle lands, allowing them to produce their chilli. There are now more than 16 farmer-owned chilli plots. Elephants for Africa also continues workshops on chilli production, harvesting and use, as well as new workshops on improving crop yields through conservation agriculture.
These workshops hosted 142 participants during the 2018/19-year. Work also continued with teachers of Khumaga Primary School and Mogolokwane Primary School to deliver 46 environmental education clubs to 105 children.
The Maasai Mara elephant population held relatively steady until 2010 when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) counted 3,162 elephants. Their count four years later revealed a striking decline to 1,488, the lowest number in 30 years. If current poaching levels continue then elephants will cease to exist in the Mara within the next 10 years.
The Mara Elephant Project (MEP) was established in 2011 and operates across the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, and in particular, an unprotected area covering 11,500 square kilometers outside these areas. In 2018, MEP discovered a concerning trend in bushmeat poaching.
Methods to protect the elephant include anti-poaching patrols and rapid response units, elephant collaring to monitor movements, ecological and behavioural research, and human-elephant conflict mitigation. MEP also invests in the education of local communities who live alongside wildlife in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
During the 2018/19 year, MEP’s presence resulted in fewer elephants killed from ivory poaching, from 83 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2018. More than 57 rangers were employed with the Kenya Wildlife Service, who patrolled nearly 18,000 kilometers on foot and nearly 142,000 kilometers in patrol vehicles.
The Mara Elephant Project seized 356kg of ivory, removed 324 snares and arrested 46 people for ivory, bushmeat and logging offences. MEP also responded to 203 incidents of human-elephant conflict. MEP are continuing to test the effectiveness of new mitigation techniques, such as flashing light fences and collar alarms. They have also sponsored new toilet blocks for a local primary school to improve sanitation.
Every one of us can further our commitments to saving the elephant, one of the world’s most treasured mammals.
Last year, as a way to scale up previous efforts to help relieve pressures on wildlife, the land and its people, The Explorations Company established a charitable foundation on the company’s 30th anniversary. Through enhanced personal experiences, Explorations Plus is a channel for you to help finance community improvement and biodiversity conservation across Africa and Asia.
By way of a donation, you can visit carefully selected, supported projects and see the direct impact of your contribution. Some charity partners operating in areas visited by our clients are focused on elephant conservation. I wholeheartedly believe that investing in the work of conservation charities is the most rewarding of travel experiences. At the same time, I guarantee that your investment will establish a lasting personal impact.
I encourage you to engage with these charities during a conservation-focussed safari or holiday to Africa. The Explorations Company have collaborated with our charity partners to create unique activities and conservation experiences for you and your family.
On a visit to see the work of Elephants for Africa in Botswana, help farmers to build a chilli plot, or held build a fuel-efficient stove. You and your family can also assist with Elefun environmental club activities, as well as meet staff, students or visiting scientists at their research camp of the banks of the Boteli River on community land opposite the National Park.
Engagement opportunities with Mara Elephant Project include a one-hour behind-the-scenes tour of their headquarters near Lemek Conservancy. Here you will learn about MEP’s work to protect elephants in the Greater Mara ecosystem. A visit to the headquarters also provides an opportunity to meet MEP rangers, see an elephant collar and how the tracking system for it works, as well as snares collected from the field. You will also see the helicopter and be able to track a collared elephant.
With Big Life, you are warmly welcomed to visit their headquarters where you will meet the programme managers to gain an overview of the day-to-day workings of a conservation organisation. Here you will see the radio room, the hub of all Big Life anti-poaching operations, as well as meet rangers and the Tracker Dog Unit. You could also join the Tracker Dog Unit on training exercise, either watching the dogs work with the handlers or as the ‘poacher’ hiding out with your guide, leaving a trail for the dogs to follow.
Philanthropic travel offers an opportunity to leave an inspiring personal legacy, helping to conserve elephants and other species. Collective action is very powerful. Your donation can make a significant difference, allowing charities to continue their great work and achieve even greater things.
I have collaborated with our charity partners to establish what a range of donations could enable or provide, and have set out some of these below.
To find out more about philanthropic travel and to discuss supporting Elephants for Africa, Mara Elephant Project or Big Life Foundation, or our other charitable partners, please contact me directly or at The Explorations Company. I oversee our philanthropic activities and would be delighted to talk about the work of our wonderful charity partners and how you could help them to achieve their goals.
Images used by kind courtesy of:
Big Life Foundation, Jeremy Goss, Elephants For Africa, James Kydd, Mara Elephant Project, Adam Bannister, Hilary Hurt. Video courtesy of Big Life Foundation.