The King Hooper Mansion was filled on Saturday with people gathered to listen to Gini Cowell, conservationist and manager of Elephant Aware Masai Mara, discuss the African Elephant, its impact on the environment, and how to help end poaching and human-elephant conflict.
Before she presented, Marblehead resident and Elephant Aware USA board member Andrea Zeren gave a brief introduction. Zeren met Cowell 10 years ago when she attended one of her presentations. She was fascinated with the work that Cowell and others were doing in Africa and wanted to help.
A year later, Zeren met current Elephant Aware USA President Therese Desmond. The two had conversations about ways they could help the cause. Both decided to go to Kenya to see their work first-hand. Soon after, Zeren helped create Elephant Aware USA, which acts as the educational and funding branch of the operation in Africa.
“What we witnessed was probably the most dedicated team I could well imagine,” said Zeren at the presentation.
Cowell co-manages a team of roughly 25 people, 18 of which are Masai wildlife rangers. The land where they operate is located right next to the Masai Mara National Reserve. During her presentation, Cowell discussed a number of topics, ranging from their roles as rangers to how elephants are beneficial to the planet.
The rangers regularly patrol the area, looking to dissuade poachers and help animals that poachers have already attempted to attack, as well as work with the Masai people to avoid potentially deadly or harmful conflict with animals in and around their homes.
She noted that while poaching has been largely stopped in Kenya, human-elephant conflict remains a large issue. She said many times, elephants or other large animals find themselves in close proximity to people’s homes, and the team’s main goal is to deescalate the situation before anyone gets hurt.
“Our team responds quickly because we don’t want the landowners to take matters into their own hands,” said Cowell. “This could be deadly for people and elephants.”
She said that issues arise at times when the team has to find a way to remove an elephant from someone’s property. Instead of being the aggressor, the team uses a method that calmly removes the animal.
“Very often we find in these situations where we have to go in and find a way to get elephants out. We use a method that we refer to as gentle persuasion.”
With safety as the main concern, Cowell said that other methods like using flashbangs, helicopters, and even bullets can cause elephants to panic and stampede, creating a hostile and extremely dangerous environment.
Cowell cited the intelligence of elephants throughout the presentation and said that over time, they become familiar with the rangers and know their scent, their vehicles, and even their voices, which makes ushering them out of a specific area much easier.
She concluded the presentation by stating that it is Elephant Aware’s goal to keep elephants on the planet, while making sure humans are not suffering at the same time.
“It is our mission to secure a future for elephants and all wildlife, and to protect the habitats they live in,” Cowell said, “all while benefiting the human community who own the land, for a peaceful coexistence.”