Data Driven Leadership
How Conservationists Use Ecological Data for Critical, Timely Action
Guest: Dr. Jake Wall, Director of Research and Conservation, Mara Elephant Project
In this episode, Dr. Jake Wall demonstrates the importance of data-driven decision-making in conservation efforts. He shares how his organization uses data to combat ivory poaching, address human-wildlife conflict, and bridge the gap between ecologists and policymakers. Additionally, he explains how a game-changing app has transformed data collection and made it accessible to others, contributing to a better understanding of elephant habitats.
In this episode, Dr. Jake Wall, Director of Research and Conservation at Mara Elephant Project, demonstrates the importance of data-driven decision-making in conservation efforts. He shares how his organization uses data to combat ivory poaching, address human-wildlife conflict, and bridge the gap between ecologists and policymakers. Additionally, he explains how a game-changing app has transformed data collection and made it accessible to others, contributing to a better understanding of elephant habitats.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
In this podcast:
Dr. Jake Wall
Dr. Jake Wall joined MEP in January 2019 as the director of research and conservation and leads MEP’s applied research agenda aimed at enhancing the protection of elephants and the habitats. Dr. Wall completed an undergraduate degree in physics and then a master’s degree in geography at Queen’s University in Canada specializing in RADAR remote sensing in the Canadian arctic. He began as a volunteer with Save the Elephants (STE) in 2003 and completed a PhD in geography at the University of British Columbia in 2015 studying the geospatial analysis of African elephant movement. Dr. Wall built a real-time monitoring system while at STE during his PhD, which advanced into the EarthRanger system built by AI2, which MEP now uses for the real-time tracking of elephants, rangers and other assets. Jake is originally from Canada but attended the International School of Kenya in Nairobi during the 1990s.
Jess Carter [00:00:01]: The power of data is undeniable and unharnessed. It's nothing but chaos.
Speaker 1[00:00:06]: The amount of data, it was crazy.
Speaker 2 [00:00:08]: Can I trust it?
Speaker 3 [00:00:09]: You will waste money.
Speaker 4 [00:00:11]: Held together with duct tape.
Speaker 5 [00:00:12] Doomed to failure.
Jess Carter [00:00:13]: This season, we're solving problems in real-time to reveal the art of the possible. Making data your ally, using it to lead with confidence and clarity, helping communities and people thrive. This is Data Driven Leadership, a show by Resultant.
Jess Carter [00:00:30]: Hey, data-driven leaders, it's Jess. I am so excited. It is probably the first time that elephants are playing a major role in our podcast episode, and I think it is super cool. We are also going to be talking a little bit about know environment and how to better understand the role that elephants play in the ecosystem and also how data and technology is being leveraged to help humans and elephants coexist. And so I am really blown away by our guest today.
Dr. Jake Wall joins me on this episode. And he's just a wealth of knowledge. He's really thoughtful, analytical, has a deep appreciation for data and tech, but also obviously a really clear passion for the people, the ecosystem, and the elephants involved in the Mara Elephant Project. So I think this is a really interesting episode to listen to, and I'm just blown away at the innovative ways that they're coming up with to leverage technology to solve some of the complex problems involved. I hope you guys enjoyed this one.
Jess Carter [00:01:38]: Welcome back to Data Driven Leadership. I'm your host, Jess Carter. And on today's episode, we are going to talk about elephants in data, and we will learn more in a minute. And with me is Dr. Jake Wall. Welcome, Dr. Jake Wall. How are you today?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:01:52]: Thank you very much. Great.
Jess Carter [00:01:53]: Good. And you are with the Mara Elephant Project, right?
Dr. Jake Wall: That's right.
Jess Carter Okay, so let's get into it. Tell me what that is. What is the Mara Elephant Project?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:02:00]: So, we are a not-for-profit conservation organization. We're based in Amasai, Mara, Kenya. Started in around 2011. So it's just over ten years, and we are very much focused on elephants and their habitats. And so MEP got started, or Mar Elephant Puppet got started in really the response to the poaching crisis. Around 2009 and 2010, ivory markets sort of came alive again, and there was huge demand for elephant ivory, and there was a lot of killing of elephants in East Africa. In, I think, 2012, we measured 96 elephants poached for their ivory in some of the year. So really, yeah.
The Kenyan government needed help, and they've got a tremendous wildlife service, kind of wildlife service, but there was still an issue. So locally in Demara, some funders basically got together to say, okay, can we specifically target and set up response teams provided money for collars. So we used GPS tracking collars on different groups, as well as an intel team that would look for information about people that were either poaching or buying ivory. So all of those things together and with close partnership with McKenney Wildlife Service made it in that. So after about three, four years, the poaching levels in the Mara came right down, and some of the gangs that were operating there were broken apart. And so MEP really started as just a couple of teams with that goal to stop ivory poaching. Since then, it's expanded greatly, though organization. And what you saw is that the poaching sort of issue came right down.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:04:13]: But what we were seeing is that human-elephant conflict was on the rise.
Jess Carter [00:04:16]: Interesting.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:04:17]: Yeah. So our rangers were getting calls from community members of the surrounding area saying, hey, there's elephants that are broken through the fence, and they've come into our farm and they aren’t cooperating. Can you help us move them out? And so that became sort of the next issue that MEP had to tackle.
Jess Carter [00:04:39]: Wow. Okay, so a couple of questions. Is this a Kenya problem?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:04:51]: You know, wherever you have range states, elephant range states, and because of the nature of elephants, they are destructive. They eat a lot of calories. An easy way for an elephant to get big and strong is to eat corn and crops that people are growing. So anywhere you have people living closely to elephants, we're seeing across the continent that there are issues with conflict. It's very hard to keep an elephant out of your farm without putting in a lot of investment into protecting your crop. You know, many farmers in Kenya are not wealthy at all. They're largely subsistence famers and just don't have the means to protect their crops.
Jess Carter [00:05:42]: Okay. And it's protecting the elephants, is there this...I may be kind of missing this, but if they keep stomping on my crops, I'm going to want to protect my crops. And then that was kind of part of your cause, or it could become? Yeah, okay.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:06:00]: So a lot of the conflict proceeds sort of in the moment. And elephants, because they're very intelligent, they know that they need to do it at night. So they sneak into people's crops at night. Elephants, strangely, can be very quiet as well. And you think that, but a herd of elephants can pass right by you, and you wouldn't even know because you always associate elephants with being loud, and they can be, when they trumpet, but when they're just walking, they can be very silent. And you have a situation where you wake up in the morning, and you've got a couple of acres of corn missing from a group of elephants.
Jess Carter [00:06:39]: Okay, got it. You're on a data podcast, and people are probably wondering, how are you using it? So you talked about the GPS trackers. That's cool. So, walk me through what does data have to do with or how did you use data to help solve some of these problems or challenges?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:06:57]: Well, I think that it's at all levels. I think, really, data is what led us to understand the problem first with poaching, for instance. So there's a data monitoring program in place set up by the IUCN. It's called MIKE: monitoring of illegal killing of elephants. So it's a very specific way that you assess a carcass, and you can say, what was the cause of death, what was the means of death, what was the age of carcass? And all that data is compiled and it tells you the story of what's happening. So the proportion of illegally killed elephants versus the ones that are naturally killed. And so by looking at sort of that pike ratio gives you a sense of, do you have a poaching problem? Versus, just say, a drought that might have killed lots of elephants? So it's really a data-driven approach to understanding the problem. So that was the first.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:07:54]: And with conflict as well, we have the concept of sort of a digital ranger. So they're not just going out and chasing elephants and leaving. And that's it. We record everything. So we record where it happened, when it happened, what the crop type was, or whether it was infrastructure. We also record was there success? Did the elephants come back? So we're compiling all of this data and using that information to help guide our volume management activities and also then sharing that data more widely to understand the overall trends of the ecosystem.
Jess Carter [00:08:31]: Okay, this may sound, again, ignorant, but here I am. So I don't deal with elephants all day, but we'll have foxes in my neighborhood, or deer, Right? So one of my questions might be, one, why are elephants important? Why are they worth protecting? Which I realize is maybe an assumption here, but might be good for listeners to hear that. And then two, is there adequate space for them? What does that look like in the future?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:09:01]: Yeah. Well, that's another very good question that data can hopefully answer. Okay, we consider elephants important. Well, they're a very likable species. There is actually bias in observation because you think of all the things that make up an ecosystem. But elephants in particular are important because they're considered sort of a keystone species. Which means that they have the ability to shape their environment, which is very true in Mara. So if you look back to the early records, in the late 18oos or mid-18oos, there was the previous scourge of it wasn't poaching…no, it was poaching.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:09:51]: It was the ivory trade started in East Africa, and we don't have many records, but basically, there were hardly any elephants in the Mara at that time. So from about 1890 to the 1920s, there was very high poaching, very few elephants. So early hunting records showed that there were maybe a handful of elephants in the Masai Mara.
What we saw from other records is that that savannah ecosystem transitioned into a bush ecosystem. So it was a lot of bushland, which meant that tsetse flies, which thrive in that environment, that population expanded, which brings tripanosomiasis, which is really deadly to cattle. So the Maasai people that were living there lost a lot of their cattle. And this bush ecosystem, with the establishment of protected areas and the decline of the ivory trade, the elephant population started to rebound, coupled with an increase in fire. So between fire and elephants, the bushland went back to a savannah ecosystem.
Jess Carter [00:11:04]: Wow.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:11:06]: Which now allows the wildebeast migration. So elephants can have a profound effect on the ecosystem in which they're living. They also dig water holes, which allows the collection water, surface water in areas that it doesn't normally occur, because elephants dig for minerals in the ground, and then they naturally create these depressions. Water comes in, which provides them water points for the animals. The other effect that elephants have is that they eat and break trees a lot. We think of that as very destructive. But actually, one of the functions that serves is that when a tree collapses and you've got sort of grass and areas underneath the tree, that actually prevents grazers from getting at that. And then during times of drought, those become seed banks, effectively, to reseed the area during a drought..
Dr. Jake Wall [00:12:01]: So, there's lots of really neat ecological functions that we're seeing elephants performing that are just now being found out.
Jess Carter [00:12:11]: That's amazing. And I didn't know any of that, for me, history. And there also weren't, if my education serves me at all, there wasn't really much protection of elephants in that time either. Right. So that's like a new thing in the last hundred or so years, right?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:12:27]: Yeah. And in fact, there was hunting all the way up until the late 1970s in Kenya. Kenya has been very progressive, always with its approach to wildlife in my opinion. They banned hunting early on, they've been very vocal about the ivory trade and I don't know if you've seen before the burning of tusks? So obviously, you've had elephants that die naturally and Kenya Wildlife Service collects the tusks and they stockpile them. Many countries are saying we should be selling those to fund conservation, but in practice, it just doesn't work like that. So Kenya has taken the stance that, let's just burn the ivory and make sure people know that it's worthless. It's not something that you should be coveting.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:13:18]: I think there's been quite progressive conservation practice. I think one of the challenges in Kenya, though, is it is a fairly small country, space-wise, and especially in terms of when it is arable and where people live. And Kenya's also got a very high population growth rate and so that will be the next thing. And it's something we're know, concerned about, it’s your question is there space for elephants? And how do we prioritize, how do we work with government to supply data? So one of the key questions Kenny's asking right now is where are the corridors and where are the areas that different wildlife species thrive and meet? And so it's identifying those from data and then making informed management policy around that.
Jess Carter [00:14:15]: Interesting. It's almost like, I think about in my hometown, where there's zoned areas where you can buy a property and it's zoned for something. It's almost like, is the property going to be zoned for elephant life or human life?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:14:29]: Yeah, well, that's an exercise that's underway right now is to identify connected corridors, basically. And how can we keep those open for wildlife? It's very complex because every species is different in terms of its own ecology. So the wildebeest migration is this incredible thing that occurs in the Mara Sarageti Mara and have 1.4 million wildebeests that are migrating annually and about 600,000, I think, come on to the Kenyan side of the border. Elephants also move. It's not quite the same. It's not a migration, but we call it connectivity.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:15:13]: So they move from areas of core range use, but seasonally, sometimes they'll move. And we're actually not quite sure of the drivers of these movements—we have elephants performing long distance movements sometimes. So we have elephants that can travel 50k- plus in a day and end up in another area. And so through the radio tracking or the GPS collars, that gives us really good insight into where are those sort of connected linkages between different areas of core range.
Jess Carter [00:15:51]: That is so interesting. So that was going to bring me back to some of the, this, I don't know how you're doing all of this and the data that you're using. Is it all Mara elephant projects’ data or how are you doing all this?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:16:05]: Yeah, I mean, we, we fund a lot of the data collection, but we're trying to be very open with the data sharing with government and other partners that can benefit. I think traditionally there have been issues, and certainly academia but in conservation as well. But it's also been a technological barrier for the ease of sharing data. And sometimes it's just for lack of technological tools to be able to do that. So we're working closely with different groups and we now have very good means of sharing data. And so that's helping conservation tremendously.
Jess Carter [00:16:52]:
Awesome. That's really cool. Well, so just out of curiosity, when it comes to the technologies and the data, what's been the hardest part? What's been the biggest challenge?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:17:01]: Yeah, I think it's keeping in sync with technological advances. And so I think conservation conservationists have traditionally been sort of more biologists or field ecologists and haven't had sort of strong data science or computer science backgrounds. Sure. And so a lot of the advances have been made, have been happening without that sort of linkage back to how can it be applied? What we're seeing now is that because biodiversity and conservation are becoming more important, climate change as well is becoming more important. And we're now seeing investment in sort of bespoke technology to solve actual problems and say it's not just forced to use a software that was created, say, for some business analytics, but now we're actually developing software for conservation data analytics.
Jess Carter [00:18:03]: That's awesome. And a huge leap, because I was imagining that conservation wasn't innately investing in the newest technologies all the time, to go from that to “we're creating our own analytic solution.” That's pretty cool.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:18:16]: Yeah. And there's been rapid advances, too, globally, throughout the world with AI, with cloud computing. But I think as conservationists, we're starting to take better advantage of those. One such system we've been working on, it's called Earth Ranger. And so that's a platform that we've started, well, long time ago, but it was really invested in by Paul Allen starting in 2015, and he put a whole team of developers on it. It's now become a really amazing platform for collecting ecological conservation data and helping manage protected areas. And so that's a free and open source platform now that we use. It's been adopted in 450 sites
Jess Carter: Wow.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:19:15]: Across 62 countries so far. And the program is really scaling beyond that in the coming years. So that's been really great because now we have this fantastic new cloud-based system that we can collect tracking data straight into. We can get our data out, we can visualize it using a really up-to-date web app. We have an associated mobile device now as well that we can use. So it used to be that if you wanted to track your vehicle, you'd have your Garmin running, and then you get the SD card out, transfer that into Google Earth, and then maybe import it into QGIS or Esri, and then you'd be able to. Now it just goes straight from the mobile phone through the Internet into the back end, and then you could visualize it and you can see what the vehicle is doing in real time or what the elephant is doing in real time. That's really made a difference in terms of data management and some of the headaches of that.
Jess Carter [00:20:21]: Well, and usefulness of that.So that's one of the things I was going to ask you is digital rangers. So you've had tracking these elephants and literally help me understand is, they're heading towards someone's field or mountain or…?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:20:36]: Yeah. So there's a few things you can do. It depends on. So you've got this group of elephants coming in. They're not leaving. Say you're banging a drum or you're hitting a paint can or something, and elephants aren't leaving. And elephants can be dangerous. I mean, you don't want to be close to an elephant on foot.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:21:03]: You can easily get crushed. So that's where the MEP rangers could come, or the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers. And with the vehicle, use the vehicle to try and push the elephants out. If that doesn't work, then we might shoot flares like a Roman candle and make an explosion. Sometimes that doesn't work. So now the latest piece in the toolkit has been drones. All of our ranger teams now carry a drone.
Jess Carter [00:21:33]: You should have led with that. That’s so cool!
Dr. Jake Wall [00:21:38]: Simple to complex. But drones are an amazing tool because they, and especially with thermal cameras, you can fly them at night. The sound that the drone makes kind of sounds like bees. And so we think because elephants don't like getting stung, like all of us, and it's been well documented that they will move away from bee swarms. So the sound of the drones seems to really annoy them. And you can use that very effectively to sort of push the group. The limitation, of course, is you get about 20 minutes of battery time before you have to bring the drone back, swap out a battery. But MEP has been really pioneering this technique and has used it very effectively to push elephants..
Jess Carter [00:22:28]: That's like a big annoying swarm of bees. Yeah. That is so cool.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:22:32]: And they can’t see it and they have very good hearing.
Jess Carter [00:22:36]: Wow. That's how I feel about drones. I have, like, two that little neighbor kids fly in my yard, and I'm always like, where is that? It is annoying, but with better ears. I would be very annoyed as an elephant. That is an incredible plan. So cool.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:22:49]: Now, unfortunately, drones are expensive, so not every farmer can own a drone and do this themselves. So it's not necessarily sort of the tech solution, but it's a very effective tool in the tool belt. We're also exploring sort of another data-driven conservation approach, which is that we've set up a farm right in where we know elephants go based on the tracking data, and we've started growing crops there.
Jess Carter [00:23:19]: Oh, wow.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:23:19]: And so we've got what's calling a selection study. So we have these five by five-meter plots and we're trying everything. So we've got corn, we've got tomatoes, we've got rosemary, lavender.
Jess Carter: It’s a buffet.
Dr. Jake Wall: It's a wildlife buffet. And the elephants—you know, and I think all the farmers around us think we're crazy because we don't protect anything. So we just let elephants, hippos actually are the main culprit because it's right on the Mara River.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:23:44]: So we have lots of hippos coming through, and our team basically studies and they record every time any species of wildlife eats something from the farm. So everything from birds to elephants to giraffe to anything that comes through. So we've been running this for a couple of years now and building up the dataset, and we're hoping to have results soon on sort of the selection preferences for different crop types and have actual data that we can use to make informed comments on. If you grow this crop, you might get a little bit of predation, but it's probably…and then we're also coupling that with an economic study to see and a social study to see, is this something that would be viable to grow? Would community members even want to grow it? Could they sell it? We don't want to make recommendations without having the data.
Jess Carter [00:24:40]: That makes sense. Okay. So it would be a moment to come back to the farmers and say, here's what we learned. Here are some opportunities you can make if you just change crops and maybe even economically, here are some better opportunities anyway.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:24:52]: And things like lavender. We've never seen anything eat lavender. And it seems like, oh, that would be the great choice. But what do you do as a farmer with a field of lavender if there's no market?
Jess Carter [00:25:02]: Right.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:25:03]: Or we can't create a market for that, or it's so low cost per yield that it doesn't make sense. So we don't want to make recommendations purely off the selection alone.
Jess Carter [00:25:14]: Sure. Though we could put on your website this huge push to buy Kenyan lavender.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:25:19]: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, there could be conflict-friendly.
Jess Carter [00:25:22]: Conflict-friendly lavender. Yeah, that's super, super neat. And it's interesting to me how much conservation, technology and the economics are all critical to solving this problem. It's not just one of those things.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:25:36]: No. It's really trying to understand the ecosystem as a whole. And people are very much part of that ecosystem. And I think, as conservationists, ecologists have traditionally kind of excluded the human side of it. And it's actually the thing that we need to be focused on. And I think that going forward, conservation needs, we need economists, we need social workers, we need health workers. It's actually the confluence of all those things that will link to the success of an ecosystem. So in that vein, over the last year, we've been working on something called the Greater Mara Monitoring Framework.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:26:21]: So we recognize that we really shouldn't structure how we're monitoring the health of the ecosystem. So just the way you go to a doctor, and they measure blood pressure and cholesterol, height and weight, and all these metrics that make sense to the doctor to interpret and give you a health check, we need the same for the ecosystem. And so we've been working with a number of researchers and government partners, and we've compiled what we're calling this monitoring framework, and it has industries across ecology, across the human-wildlife interface, and the social, economic and cultural aspects as well. So if you don't have a healthy cultural index, for instance, then that could really severely impact the ecosystem, or if you've got things like too many livestock. So we're trying to compile all of this into a framework, and then we need to…well, some of these things are being monitored, but there's many that aren't. And so we need to actually get investment to be able to monitor certain key indicators. So wildlife numbers, we have to do aerial census work to be able to count overall wildlife populations.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:27:35]: We need better vegetation monitoring to understand, because when you look at it, it's like, oh, there's lots of green grass, but people will tell you that, well, our cows aren't getting as fat as they used to. And it turns out that the species composition has changed. And so what's been driving that? So it's not just of these grass, it's well, how much protein and energy is in that grass? We need much better monitoring to be able to paint a better, holistic picture of what's happening across.
Jess Carter [00:28:05]: Sure. Well, and culturally, I was kind of curious about this. As a leader who's leveraging data to help impact this meaningful change in Kenya, I'm imagining that there are a lot of entities that have to collaborate. You're collaborating with government, you're collaborating with other conservationists, et cetera. And I imagine that sometimes, usually data with problems, the data isn’t always the hard part. It's the collaboration, but also the culture on top of all of that. I think you said you're Canadian, and so we're in Kenya.
Jess Carter [00:28:39]: We're working with people. I'm curious about the data literacy. Like, do people believe the data when you show up, is there, buy in immediately. Do you know I mean? Does that make sense?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:28:49]: Yeah, no, I think that's a gap as well. Okay. I think what happens is you've got really bright scientists that are doing incredible work collecting data, publishing that as papers, but there isn't that next step of how do we communicate our results from the paper to the community, back to government? And there needs to be a better link between the research and the policymakers and the managers. And we've seen this clearly recently where key politicians have no idea that, well, actually, there's wildlife decline, or the river flow rates are half of what they used to be, or there's all kinds of these environmental issues, but no one's really seen those because they were in some academic journal. But that just hasn't been connected back. So through this monitoring framework, because monitoring isn't necessarily science; it's not inference. You're not analyzing the relationships between things and the causal or correlations.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:29:56]: You're simply saying, here's the temperature over time, or here's the grass cover over time. But what we're trying to do is get to surface that information in a way that's more consumable. So right now, we partnered Earth Ranger with the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence who are based in Seattle. So we're co-developing now a system that we've built at MEP over the last few years called Ecoscope, which is an open-source python library at the core, but it's meant to take data and create outputs easily. So we built Ecoscope to both interface with Earth Ranger—so, tracking data or event data, know the carcass information—and then we also have a module that can talk to Google Earth engine.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:30:49]: So Google Earth engine is this incredible cloud-based remote sensing platform that basically has the entire public remote sensing catalog available. So Landsat data, LOUTS data, and so we could connect our tracking information to remote sensed data. We can use Ecoscope then to do these different analyses, so we can look at things like trends in vegetation greenness across the Mara, or we can look at the trend in rainfall as estimated from satellite, or we can do wildlife home range analysis.
Jess Carter: Wow.
Dr. Jake Wall: So now we've partnered with AI, too, to co-develop Ecoscope, and we're going to put it into Earth Ranger as a sort of dashboard. And that will make it much easier for someone to look at their protected area and define, okay, what's going on in this protected area? What are the wildlife doing? What's the rainfall? When was the last fire that occurred? And then they can start to make hopefully better informed decision-making to manage.
Jess Carter [00:31:57]: That is so cool. It feels like you're taking decades off the process of research, and then it finally hits the faces and hearts of the people that need these big change to, hey, there's a dashboard you can build. Like time matters here, even, which we can put the data.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:32:12]: Yeah, because, I mean, we don't have years and years to take to collect the data, pilot, publish a paper, and then present a graph that, hey, maybe the grass composition has changed and we need to solve, and maybe that's being driven by, say, an increase in goats or something. So we have to make a decision then, do we allow as many goats to be there, but that cycle has to be really sped up and we just don't have time. So technology plays a huge role in that. And investment in these tools then allows us that very much quicker iteration.
Jess Carter [00:32:51]: Right. I mean, the sensitivity, some of that is you're learning the sensitivity of the ecosystem while you're trying to intercede. And so the ability to have technology that can move quickly enough for you to discern the sensitivity and react to it or start to prevent, that's neat.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:33:08]: And I mean, doctors have 1000 years on top ahead of us in terms of many patients and the statistics to kind of say, well, if blood sugar gets out of this range, then you're effectively sick. We don't have that luxury in the Mara. So it's sort of an equation of n=1.
Jess Carter [00:33:30]: Right.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:33:30]: And we have to figure these things out. And so some of the decision-making isn't going to be based on a huge, consistent sample. But I think the better that we can expose certain trends metrics, the better that we can actually manage the system and understand it.
Jess Carter [00:33:48]: Yeah, you answered my kind of my sort of wrap-up question here. I was going to ask you in light of how sensitive all this can be and the fact that data is always changing because there's more people than there were before. There may be more elephants, which is good. What is success? But it sounds like that ability to monitor and intervene and manage success isn't just that there's all the elephants on earth, right?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:34:11]: I mean, we really think of it sort of in terms of this theory of change. Right. So you've got activities that you do which lead to outputs, which hopefully lead to outcomes and then impact. And so the way we are thinking about it is in terms of, well, we monitor our activities, we monitor our outputs and we have to be looking at that impact level, though. And so everything we're doing from the Ranger patrolling through elephant tracking and everything. But, yeah, so we're sort of using that theory of change framework to help guide us in terms of where to put our energy, limited resources that we have.
Jess Carter [00:34:55]: Well, and I was going to ask you that too. So, limited resources wise, do you have major funders? How does it work for you?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:35:02]: Yeah, so it's entirely donation-based. We do get a little bit of grant money, but mainly it's donor-funded. And so we're quite a small organization, relatively, but I think some of the impact we're doing is quite high. And so, yeah, we're always keen to get funding, and we need funding. None of this happens without people saying, hey, I want to help. In terms of the technology development, we've also really benefited from people volunteering their time, you know., developers. We have a gentleman in Vancouver who, for the last few years, has donated this time, and he's been coding for us, and we've built an app, for instance, to measure and map infrastructure. So we have a very bespoke tool now where we've mapped over 6000 kilometers of fence line using this.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:36:05]: But without that tool, it could be very laborious from a data perspective to collect that information. So his volunteering has really led to an impact, and we've made that data available. It's now informing government decision-making. And so it's been incredible. And then another group that I've worked with they volunteered their time. We built something called Elephant Book, which is now a way that we can collect information on individual elephants. And you build in machine learning, and we're developing a model to help us re-ID elephants. And so using that system, we now have a catalog of 1100 elephants that we know in the Mara, and that's all been through volunteer hours, basically.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:36:54]: So it's really incredible when you get the right sort of people together, what they can do in their spare time.
Jess Carter [00:37:01]: That's amazing. It's just neat to see that you're providing that passion too, because I do know a lot of people who are in tech, and it gets to a point where they want something that connects them to making the world a better place, making it more meaningful. And the fact that we have, a lot of times, even in our own consulting firm where, we ask people, do you want to go serve at a food kitchen? I would love to use my developer skills to do something meaningful. I think it's neat that you guys receive that.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:37:29]: Yeah. So, if anyone listening is a developer and wants to get involved, fantastic. We've done lots of work.
Jess Carter [00:37:37]: That is so cool. Speaking of that, if people want to learn more about Mara Elephant Project or you, where can they follow you? How can they find you?
Dr. Jake Wall [00:37:44]: I think our website is the best place to start, and we're on all the social media, so. Maraelephantproject.org website, please.
Jess Carter [00:37:55]: Well, hey, seriously, thank you for joining us. It is a gift that we get to, and part of the data podcast too is to help people understand how great leadership and data can actually lead to meaningful change. But it doesn't happen without passion and purpose, and you obviously have that, so I appreciate you being here today.
Dr. Jake Wall [00:38:11]: Thank you very much for having me.
Jess Carter [00:38:14]: Yeah. So, guys, thank you for listening to this episode of Data Driven Leadership. We'll catch you on the next one. If you have any thoughts about what you want to hear from us, please rate a review and let us know. We'll see you on the next episode.
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