MECEP Mount Elgon Cave Elephant Project

 

The Mount Elgon Cave Elephant Project, initiated in 2012, is a research project that aims to support local long term conservation strategies regarding Mt Elgon’s charismatic keystone species and its unique habitat. The main emphasis is laid on the advance to understand the ecology, behaviour and ecosystem impact of the world’s only cave-mining elephants. The project is operating in Mount Elgon’s protected areas, an UNESCO Men And Biosphere Reserve in East Africa. Home to a globally renowned biodiversity, containing high numbers of threatened as well as endemic species, the trans-boundary ecosystem of Mt Elgon become a priority site for species conservation.

 

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the world's only troglodyte tuskers

 

The last remaining elephant population of Mount Elgon (Loxodonta africana) is the world´s only elephants which used to go underground into huge, dark caves and holding the unique culture of salt mining. For thousands of years, the caves on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Kenya have been personal salt mines for this elephant population. The elephants mine it by the use of their tusks, breaking the salty rocks from the cave walls, deep inside the volcano. Sadly, the unique elephant population was heavily hit and nearly eliminated by the bloody ivory poaching in the 1970s and 80s: Numbering about 1200 elephants in the montane forests of Mount Elgon in the 1970s, only about 100 individuals have survived the insane massacre for ivory.
The establishment of one large trans-boundary managed protected area will allow the recovery of the unique population, as long as the recent ivory poaching wave will not reach Mount Elgon again. Therefore new elephant management skills and sustainable strategies for mitigating human-elephant-conflicts need to be developed and implemented across the trans-boundary habitat.

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research and applied conservation

 

The main research objective of MECEP is to support the long term conservation strategies in a trans-national context, informed by sound science. In the field, we will focus on the keystone species of Mt Elgon, the elephants, by using modern research methods. Research allows us estimating role and function in the ecosystem as well as future population trends, monitoring their movement patterns, learning on behaviours, determine when and where humans-elephant-conflicts occur, identify and address additional threats like poaching, and gather further important data. Our scientific research will point out where to concentrate local wildlife management strategies in the trans-boundary protected area of Mt Elgon.

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