maasai mara

  • Elephant Partners - Maasai Mara

    In early 2011, ElephantVoices launched "Elephant Partners", an elephant conservation project in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The goal of Elephant Partners is to develop a working model for citizens to monitor and protect elephants. This initiative was made possible through support from the generous organisations and inviduals listed at the bottom of this page.

    The concept is to connect individual people - guides, scouts, researchers, photographers, tourists, people of the Maasai Mara and all those 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 sharing knowledge of the Mara elephants and working together to protect them.

    Elephants are important for the survival of the Mara

    As an iconic landscape species elephants are important to the survival of the Mara. They play a key role in the ecosystem and, through tourism, in the local economy. Their great size, sociality, intelligence and charisma make them important Ambassadors for other threatened species. Yet, the Mara elephants are currently threatened by habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and ivory poaching. Many elephants are killed each year and an even greater number are wounded by spears, arrows and snares. By engaging people in the monitoring and protection of elephants, we hope to engender enthusiasm for the collective custodianship necessary to protect elephants and the ecosystem.

    The data collected include group size, location and composition and will determine the habitat use and migration routes used by individual elephants. These data will help wildlife managers protect elephants and to determine the corridors vital to their survival. Elephant Partners will make these and other baseline data available to the public. Furthermore, the project will help focus attention on the newly formed conservancies and bolster their important work; the future of elephants and other landscape species depends upon their commercial success.

    Follow and support the Mara elephants

    One of the main components of this initiative is a fully searchable online database for storing information, photographs and identifying features of each elephant - the Mara Elephant Who's Who - so that we can get to know them as individuals. This database is populated by ElephantVoices, with photo contributions from those of you residing in or visiting the Maasai Mara. You will find an article about The Mara Elephant Who's Who and how to identify elephants published on National Geographic's A Voice for Elephants 16 August 2013, with photos and educational video.

    Via the online interface of a second Mara Elephant Whereabouts database people can upload their own observations, photos and comments on the Mara elephants (their behavior, movements, interactions, conflicts, threats, etc.). This database is related to an advanced mapping functionality showing selected location data. You have to be a registered user to access the above databases - they are both password-protected.

    Furthermore, in November 2011 we launched the Mara EleApp, which has later been updated. This app, for Android-based phones, provides an efficient way for people to collect and upload observations directly to the above mentioned Observations database.

    To achieve its vision Elephant Partners must serve and belong to everyone: The many conservancies (Mara Triangle, Mara North, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oiroua, Enonkishu, Motorogi, Olare Orok, Mara Naboisho, Ol Kinyei, Olderikesi, see map), Kenya Wildlife Service, Maasai Mara National Reserve, members of the local community, the tourism sector and members of the general public. Kenya Wildlife Service, the Mara Elephant Project and the Koiyaki Guiding School are just a few of many important collaborators in this initiative.

    The below video is from a presentation of the Elephant Partners initiative by ElephantVoices' Joyce Poole,
    at National Geographic' Explorers Symposium in June 2012.
    Thank you!
    We are grateful to the organizations and individuals below for making this project possible.
    You will find a full overview over monetary and in-kind supporters, and other contributors and collaborators, on the Acknowledgements page.

  • ElephantVoices eNewsletter September 2015


    Did you know….? Our work in Gorongosa, Mozambique, will be highlighted in episodes 2 and 5 of the six-part PBS series entitled, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise. The film will premier on 22 September. Our photo of two Mabenzi family babies, taken on a rare drizzly, foggy morning in October 2013, has become an icon for the PBS series. The elephants were tucking into a bonanza of fallen seed pods under the Faidherbia albida trees.

    Dear friend of ElephantVoices,

    In Maasai Mara, Kenya, citizen scientists have been gathering data using our Mara EleApp and uploading to our Who's Who & Whereabouts Databases. In recent years human and livestock populations have increased and the landscape is being rapidly subdivided and fenced. Ivory poaching has hit the Mara elephants hard, too. While the outlook isn’t uplifting, elephants are resilient, flexible and smart, and we see these qualities reflected in the data: Elephants are strategically adapting their movements and behavior to overcome adversity and to balance access to security and resources. ElephantVoices is working with colleagues to define habitat and corridors to ensure long-term survival of elephants and connectivity of habitat. Many thanks to those who have made our work possible - JRS Biodiversity Foundation, National Geographic Global Exploration Fund Northern Europe, Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and Crystal Springs Foundation, in particular.

    In Gorongosa, Mozambique, we have set up camera traps to better understand crop raiding patterns and to further our understanding of these elephants. The cameras have made it possible to age and identify scores of reclusive elephants, document new behaviors, and to determine the temporal pattern, identity and size of raiding parties. The data have confirmed expectations and delivered surprises in equal measure. In October we will be back in Gorongosa and look forward to spending time with these extraordinary elephants and our many colleagues. Thanks to the Gorongosa Restoration Project for continued support of our work. Stay tuned for insights in the six-part PBS series premiering on 22nd September - you’ll find the details here.

    We are engaged in elephant behavior and communication research again! Many of you know about our unique online Gestures and Elephant Calls Databases. To these we are now adding video, so that you can see exactly what we mean by the over 200 documented behaviors. We are busy mining raw footage of elephant behavior from two films that we participated in: Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise and Little Giant, set in Mara Naboisho, Maasai Mara. Once the time consuming logging of behavior is done, we look forward to using it for a range of educational outputs, including our scientific databases. We are very grateful to WildiZe for supporting this work and to Off the Fence for providing many hours of raw footage of elephants filmed by Bob Poole. We applaud the film producers for collaborating with scientists in this way. Both films will be screened at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

    Besides our three main projects, ElephantVoices continues to advocate for elephants and raise awareness, working with many others to move the groundswell for change forward. We have had successes and failures: the passing of CA-AB 96 in the State of California will prohibit the purchase, sale or import of ivory or rhinoceros horn; California is also on the verge of becoming the first US state to ban the bullhook. In Brazil, Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, an initiative of Global Sanctuary for Elephants and ElephantVoices Brazil, purchased land for an elephant sanctuary. One in which we failed, makes our stomach churn: We worked hard to try to stop the capture in Zimbabwe, and export to China, of scores of baby elephants. We traveled to China to speak to Chinese Zoo directors, wrote a letter to President Robert Mugabe and contributed to several National Geographic articles about this abusive practice. Despite all efforts tens of elephants are already at Chimelong Safari Park, China, and more have been caught and are ready to be shipped. With a key collaborator we are currently discussing what can be done to put an end to the abhorrent practice of live elephant trade.

    And now: On our way to Mozambique in early October we will make a large detour to Sun Valley, Idaho, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In Sun Valley Joyce will hold a public lecture at the Community Library. On 22 September we’ll watch the premiere of Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise with some Gorongosa folk. We’ll be in Jackson Hole from 25 September to 3 October to attend the Elephant Summit and Film Festival, where Joyce, Cynthia Moss and Iain Douglas-Hamilton will receive Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Awards. Joyce and Cynthia, will be interviewed by author and biologist, Carl Safina on Tuesday 29 September. We look forward to seeing some of you there!

    After a month in Gorongosa we will be back in Kenya at our home office, Raha Mstarehe, and in the Maasai Mara and the Forest of the Lost Child. While the challenges are many, the rewards of compassionate conservation are greater.

    Want to stay in the loop? If you haven't already, join well over 275,000 others and follow our educational snippets and progress on ElephantVoices on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

    Thank you for your continued support - with your help we are making a difference!

    Trumpets, Joyce and Petter

    PS From 7th to 13th September you can raise funds for our work for the Gorongosa elephants by shopping at In collaboration with ElephantVoices FLOAT has designed striking tees - be ready, we are asking you to RUMBLE FOR ELEPHANTS!

    ElephantVoices is dependent on your support - please include ElephantVoices in your giving.
    Click on this link for a more mobile-friendly donation-page.

    Link to ElephantVoices donation page on Network for Good

  • History

    Joyce Poole has studied the social behavior and communication of African elephants for over thirty five years and has dedicated her life to their conservation and welfare. The inspiration for her life's work came from a childhood in Africa, a father with a love of nature, and a lecture by Jane Goodall that she attended at the age of eleven. She began her work with elephants at the age of 19 in Amboseli National Park studying there under mentor, and Director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Cynthia Moss.

    Joyce Poole with new Nagra tape recorder in 1987. (Copyright: ElephantVoices)Decades-long study of elephant behavior and communication

    In Amboseli, Joyce's early work focused on the social and reproductive behavior of male elephants. Discovering in 1978 that African male elephants experience a heightened sexual and aggressive period known as musth,led her to carry out detailed study of their socio-sexual behavior. In the mid 1980s, she extended her study to elephant communication, first concentrating on the signaling patterns between males in musth. The very low frequency sounds produced by male elephants led to work with Katy Payne, and the finding that, like their Asian cousins, African elephants use sounds below the level of human hearing. Together, Joyce and Katy turned their attention to the role of infrasound in elephant long-distance communication.

    In the late 1990s, Joyce began to document the vocal repertoire and body language of African elephants discovering. She found, in the process, that elephants are capable of vocal imitation.

    Scientific knowledge used to protect elephants and their welfare

    Joyce's elephant research has not been confined to the realm of academic journals. Data from surveys in 1989 showing that the killing of elephants for ivory was destroying the social fabric of elephant society were used in the campaign which successfully banned the international trade in ivory. Understanding of male elephant behavior, and the importance of social learning and role models in elephant society has been key to the adoption of more humane elephant management practices.

    Between 1990-1994, she had the opportunity to head the Elephant Program of Kenya Wildlife Service, working with and training many of the men and women who hold key elephant management positions in Kenya today.

    ElephantVoices founded in 2002

    Joyce Poole and Petter Granli in Amboseli Elephant Research Camp. (©ElephantVoices) During the latter half of the 1990s, Joyce returned to her long-term study of elephants believing that she could best influence their future by sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm. Since 2000, she has continued her elephant communication work with Norwegian husband and colleague, Petter Granli, and together they founded ElephantVoices (initially Savanna Elephant Vocalization Project) in 2002. Petter's creativity, technical skills and his background in marketing and communication influenced their decision to share the voices of elephants via the internet in the belief that better understanding could help change public perception and improve the survival prospects for elephants. ElephantVoices' first website was launched in 2002. In September 2008, ElephantVoices was registered as a non-profit charitable organisation in California.

    A second generation ElephantVoices' website launched in 2009, with its associated databases of elephant sounds and gestures, was the fruit of an idea planted almost a decade before and the result of many years of work in association with numerous dedicated colleagues and friends mentioned on our Collaborators page. In October 2013, working with long-term Kenyan collaborators from Verviant a re-designed was launched.

    ElephantVoices has since its inception been working worldwide with issues, policies and cases related to elephant welfare, and initiated in 2008 The Elephant Charter. In late 2011, the document Sanctuary for Elephants - Overall Principles was launched, partly related to ElephantVoices efforts toward the establishment of an elephant sanctuary in Brazil.

    Moving on to Maasai Mara, Kenya, and Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

    In 2010, ElephantVoices initiated a new conservation project in the world renown Maasai Mara, Kenya, part of the key Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Known as Elephant Partners, the project on this for both Kenya and Tanzania vital elephant population is based on citizen science and the use of mobile phone and web technology. The following year Joyce and Petter began a study of the elephants in amazing Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Both projects are on-going.

  • NEW REPORT: Mara ecosystem connectivity: Information on elephant population status and movements 
for spatial planning and conservation in Narok County


    Mara ecosystem connectivity: Information on elephant population status and movements
    for spatial planning and conservation in Narok County


    The report linked at the bottom of this page, Mara ecosystem connectivity: Information on elephant population status and movements for spatial planning and conservation in Narok County,has been prepared at the invitation of the Narok County Government Department of Lands, Urban Development and Physical Planning and the County Assembly Committee on Natural Resources at a stakeholders forum on spatial plan development and resource mobilisation held in Narok on 16 - 17 October 2014. 

    Front page Mara elephant report 2016The report presents findings of a collaborative study of elephants in the Maasai Mara ecosystem by ElephantVoices, Save the Elephants, Mara Elephant Project and Kenya Wildlife Service, and offers recommendations for the attention of Narok County. It contributes information about the status of elephants in the ecosystem, their movement patterns and habitat use for consideration in the county’s spatial planning process. The report lays emphasis on the need for urgent intervention to secure critical routes and habitats for long-term survival of elephants and to prevent escalating human elephant conflict and declining biodiversity which, if not halted, would have disastrous consequences for tourism and associated economic benefits for the Narok County and the Country.

    The report highlights important habitats that have been interfered with or lost through land subdivision, settlement, fencing, and livestock grazing and maps the current extent of human settlement (see Figure 1a of the report) in the Mara ecosystem. Based on the satellite tracking of 27 elephants, it illustrates elephant movement across the ecosystem (see Figure 1b of the report). The report draws attention to critical routes used by elephants and proposes a landscape connectivity framework for sustained elephant movement (Figure 1c and detailed in Table 2 of the report).

    The Maasai Mara ecosystem is an extremely valuable asset for Narok County. However, wildlife and habitats continue to decline. This deterioration is primarily attributed to competing land uses and escalating human activities that are not compatible with conservation. All wildlife and, notably, wide ranging and large bodied species, such as elephants, are negatively affected. Within the next few years the trend, if not halted, has the potential to have disastrous consequences for tourism and associated economic benefits.

    The situation requires urgent attention. The report therefore recommends five priority actions for consideration by the Narok County Government for the long-term benefit of wildlife and the people of Narok County:

    1. Halt development in all critical conservation and migratory areas and establish protected corridors (as identified in Figure 1c and described in Table 2 of the report), to sustain biodiversity and prevent escalating human-elephant conflict. Use legal and economic instruments in consultation with local communities and landowners to this end. 
    2. Suspend further sub-division of land and issuance of title deeds until the ongoing spatial planning process is completed and approved. 
    3. Halt destruction by loggers, charcoal burners and settlement of the Mau Forest Complex and of the Forests of Naimina Enkiyio, Nyakweri, Mugor and Laila to protect crucial water towers, biodiversity and dry season grazing lands and to prevent escalating human-elephant conflict. Securing the Mau Forest is vital for the survival of the Mara River and the entire ecosystem.
    4. Manage the grazing of livestock in the MMNR and conservancies sustainably and such that elephants and other wildlife are not negatively impacted.
    5. Ensure the equitable and transparent sharing of benefits from the MMNR to improve livelihoods and mitigate human wildlife conflict among those communities in the Mara hosting wildlife.

    We recognise that the government’s will is fundamental to the recommended changes in policy and that much more detailed mapping and planning work will need to be done to accomplish the recommendations that relate to spatial planning (see Recommendationspp 24-26). Our institutions of affiliation stand ready to support and assist the Narok County and its spatial planners in this process.

    Report published May 2016.

    The report can be downloaded from this page.

    Click here for a direct download of a high-resolution version of the report (7 mb).

    Click here for a direct download of a compressed version of the report, with figures still in decent quality (3.8 mb).

    Mara elephant report - logos.jpg