Monthly Report April 2012

General

We had intermittent, and at times, heavy thunderstorms over the first week of April. The storms then increased in frequency and intensity – with some exceptionally heavy storms from the middle of the month. This was certainly the heaviest April rain we have had in years – all the low-lying areas are flooded and the roads have taken a major beating. The Mara River burst its banks on a couple of occasions and flooded both the lower roads between Oloololo Gate and Purungat, washing away large sections of riverbank and felling a prominent fig tree near Mugoro. The experts are predicting another season of below average rainfall in eastern Kenya and above normal rains in the Lake Victoria basin – we are just on the edge of the lake basin and can expect above average rainfall in April and May – eastern Kenya may experience below average rainfall; although Nairobi was exceptionally wet in April.

We held an award ceremony for the Most Responsible Guide in the Mara Triangle at Sanctuary Olonana on the 12th. Mr Joseph ole Koiye won the award – a two-week, all-expenses paid, trip to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Joseph will have the opportunity to meet, and work with, some of Africa’s top safari guides. Joseph has improved greatly over the years and it is so heartening to see him embrace the concept of responsible guiding so fully. He acknowledged the role of Mr Joseph Kimojino in mentoring him. Mr Kimojino is one of our Wardens who was responsible for our “Cheetah” section for two years – and can be credited with mentoring a number of guides and making them see the need to act responsibly – well done Kimojino. Mr Abdul Karim, also from Sanctuary Olonana, came second for the second year in a row – he lost by half a point. Surely there can be few better, more consistent guides. Mr Andrew Kasura from Mara Serena came third – well done Andrew. I wish to thank the Born Free Foundation for sponsoring the competition and Dr Cheryl and Mr Manny Mvula of Tribal Voice who were instrumental in establishing this award.

The Chief Executive attended at meeting on Conservancies hosted by the African Wildlife Foundation and supported by The Basecamp Foundation, the Kenya Wildlife Trust and the Kenya Land Conservation Trust on the 25th. The meeting was basically held to discuss the legal status of Conservancies and what the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was doing to encourage, regulate and register conservancies within the context of current wildlife laws. It was encouraging to see the support that KWS is prepared to give Conservancies.

Rains have hampered the survey work on the boundary. We hope that work will start as soon as the rains abate, probably in June.

Wildlife

Another cheetah gave birth to cubs in the first week of April near the four kilometre sign – we presume that this cheetah is the same one that had cubs in almost exactly the same place over a year ago. She was seen carrying two cubs on the 29th. On the previous occasion she lost all but one of her cubs to hyena – the remaining one was found searching for its mother one day and we managed to get them together that evening – it was the last we saw of the cub.

The three cheetah cubs we rescued two months ago are thriving, we will need to consider building a large enclosure as part of their release programme.

We spent a great deal of time and effort trying to protect the lions closest to the escarpment – to prevent another attempt by Masai warriors. It now appears that the graduation, to junior elders, will not happen until August. This essentially means that we will not be able to let our guard down until then.

Research

David Green will return to the Triangle to conduct a two-year PhD study on his hypothesis that changing behaviour, demography, and/or physiology of the spotted hyena can predict population trends of herbivores and carnivores in the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem. As part of his research, Mr Green will collar 20 hyena in the whole Mara – 12 in the Triangle. He is planning to set up a web site that will allow people to follow GPS collared hyenas online and read about these animals on the Hyena project research blog.

Staff

Mr Charles Gitau went to Britain for his leave and returned to the office on the 16th.

Caroline Saruni swapped places with Margaret Wangui so that Caroline could be close to her husband as he recuperated from his attack by members of his own family. Sadly, it would appear that Charles Saruni has lost his sight in one eye. Margaret has returned to Nairobi and Caroline will return to the Mara at the beginning of May.

Anne Kent-Taylor and Care for the Wild sponsored a trip to the Coast for their rangers and three of our senior staff.

Tourism

Tourist numbers dropped dramatically from mid April; probably a good thing, given the weather. Ballooning at this time of year causes very considerable damage to the roads and environment – and we really need to consider banning balloons in November/early December and then again in April/May if the balloon companies cant be more considerate of the environment in which they fly.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming months but all the indications are that the Mara will be full during the high season.

Security

Nineteen people were arrested in April, bringing the total to 1,843. Seven of the arrests were people who were threatening our Tanzanian counterparts and two were people who had been involved in the attempted robbery at Mara Serena in January. One person was arrested after a lioness was speared and killed in the Triangle on the 1st, he may have been one of the people involved in the spearing but there is no doubt that he welcomed, and then slaughtered a sheep for them, after the spearing.

The Ngiro-are rangers arrested 2 people near Kasarani midnight on the 31st. The two had been hunting in the Lemai Wedge for four days and had killed a topi. They had 20 wire snares.

We received a call from Joseph ole Koiye, an Olonana driver, at 9.00 am on the 1st to say that Masai morans were hunting lions along the escarpment. We immediately dispatched all the rangers – too late – the morans killed a mature lioness. This lioness was well known and did not appear to be part of a pride. There were three large males nearby, they escaped but the lioness had two fatal spear wounds, one through the rib cage and one through the chest. The morans took the tail and one fore-leg as proof of their exploit. We spent the whole day searching for the morans and managed to arrest one person late in the evening, when the rangers surrounded a thicket in which the morans were hiding. He denied being part of the hunting party but admitted slaughtering a sheep in their honour on their return. He was interrogated and then taken to Kilgoris Police Station for further questioning and prosecution.

It is imperative that we deal with these morans – there are five Siria sub-clans and four of them are graduating in the near future. The fact that one group, from the Ilkinono sub-clan, succeeded, and got away with it, was bound to goad the others into trying.

There is absolutely no doubt that there are a number of Masai moran sympathizers amongst the rangers and wardens and it is very difficult to get them to act on their “own people”. We have recently seen this with armed bandits and poachers and highlights the major downside of employing people from one ethnic group or area. Two of our Board members have been extremely supportive in dealing with these sympathizers and look forward to seeing a change in attitude.

There is a lot of talk about the killing of lions being part of tradition and that we should sympathize with the morans – they are only doing what generations have done before them. Killing a lion in the Mara Triangle is on a par with the abhorrent “canned hunting” that takes place in South Africa. Canned hunting is the shooting of tame animals. What can be tamer than the Mara Triangle lions? They are so habituated that I had to spend 20 minutes moving two big males from my aircraft hanger one day – they moved 20 yards and then flopped down. They looked the other way as I pushed out the plane. On the 2nd – I went to check on a Tsetse trap (2 people apparently became ill with sleeping sickness whist staying at Olumara Camp in the Mara and KWS and the Ministry of Health and Public Sanitation – Division of Disease Surveillance and Response have set traps to check on the species of tsetse fly) – I inspected the trap about 40 meters off the road, when I got there, three lions were lying asleep 30 meters from where I was standing (I measured it later). They completely ignored me. These morans are not brave warriors – if they were they would be looking for truly wild lions that live in the community areas and kill cattle. When I asked why they don’t go for those lions, the answer was “they are too difficult and dangerous”. What could be easier than sitting on the escarpment, watching for concentrations of tourist vehicles in open country and then coming down to spear tame, unsuspecting lions?

We get a lot of comment about allowing people to practice their traditions: nomadism, piercing earlobes and removing two front teeth used to be tradition – I don’t see that anymore. Why cant the leaders and elders also stop lion spearing?

What has happened to the respect that Masai youth had for their elders and for the discipline that was a key part of being a moran? There seems to be neither respect, nor discipline. I spoke to a Masai elder one evening and he admitted that the morans would not tell the elders that they were going on a lion raid. I am not so sure that I can believe that. They either completely ignored their elders (we have been assured on numerous occasions that the elders no longer condone the killing of lions), in which case they should be disciplined, or they acted with the tacit knowledge of their elders. Masai society has to be the most open and un-secretive society I know and so I am tending towards believing that the elders knew and gave their approval (this was borne out when our wardens had subsequent meetings with the morans and elders – many of the elders tried to persuade the morans not to kill any more lions but a group of elders insisted that the morans go and kill more lions). Presumably they will do so for the other three sub-clans. Hiding people that break the law is not the way to instill discipline and foster accountability – it only perpetuates impunity – the curse of this Country.

When we posted the spearing on facebook we had nearly 300 comments, a surprising number from Masai who condoned the killing and commented on how they are the foremost conservationists – and should be allowed to continue with their traditions. They were. Without the Masai of yesteryear we would not have wonderful areas like the Masai Mara. However – that was generations past. What about the current generation?

  • Wildlife populations in Masai land have declined by 80% in the past 35 years;
  • Hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime rangeland has been given out by the Masai for agriculture, whether it is to large-scale wheat farmers or tenant Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Kisii and Luo farmers;
  • Forest that was protected by generations of Masai is now being destroyed at an alarming rate;
  • There is wanton destruction of prime wildlife habitat for the unplanned and unnecessary development of tourism facilities, both within, and outside the formal protected area;
  • All the recent elephant poaching in the Mara region has been done by Masai – over 30 elephant in the Mara ecosystem this year alone;
  • Masai have been involved in virtually all the security incidents: armed robbery, murder, theft – that have happened in the Mara over the past few years; and
  • Masai are also selling trophies: ostrich eggs; hippo teeth; rhino horn; leopard, cheetah and python skins. Many of them are dealers and middlemen in the illegal trophy trade.

Why is this happening – Greed? Not wanting to work for a living? With a few notable exceptions our leaders should be ashamed. Unless the current Masai leaders take responsibility for what is happening, they will lead the generation that ruined the wonderful reputation and work that had been done by countless generations before them. Is that what the leadership want to be known for?

I don’t believe it is. Let the leaders come forward and do what is right: for the well-earned reputation that their forefathers bequeathed them as a straightforward, fearless and disciplined people, wonderful with livestock and unmatched conservationists.

On the 10th our rangers from Ngiro-are arrested seven people, three before and four after, a very serious incident that nearly resulted in the killing of one, or more, Tanzanian rangers. The Tanzanian rangers had impounded about 300 cattle and were immediately surrounded by an angry mob. The rangers fired over the heads of the mob, with no effect. In the end one person was shot in the leg. The driver of the vehicle was attacked and would almost certainly have been killed if our rangers had not arrived and intervened. I would like to commend our rangers for their exemplary behavior in diffusing an extremely dangerous and difficult situation.

On the night of the 12th we arrested two, of the three remaining bandits who raided Mara Serena on the 13th January. We had waited for a while, to let them drop their guard, and then picked them up in their homes as they slept. The third person was not at home at the time.

The Ngiro-are rangers arrested three, of ten, poachers who were operating in a thicket we call “watu kumi” in the Lemai Wedge on the 14th – we arrested ten people in the same thicket nearly ten years ago, hence the name. These people were hunting warthog and had killed one animal.

The Iseiya rangers arrested 4 people on the 14th – three in daylight, at around 6.00 pm. The rangers then set up an ambush on some wire snares near Machwechwe – one zebra was caught in the snare but broke free that night. Seven poachers came in to inspect their snares in a heavy rainstorm and the rangers managed to arrest one person.

Revenue and Accounts

The insurance company covering KAPS’ fidelity insurance have agreed to pay Ksh 2,729,154 towards the cost of money stolen by KAPS employees last year – the people involved have been prosecuted and the hearings continue to date. KAPS will cover the remaining Ksh 2,294,271 and pay over a period of four months, May to August.

We have managed to keep our expenses down and should meet our reserve targets for the year. We are still concerned about the economic, political and security issues that are adversely affecting tourism and feel reasonably confident as we go into the next few, uncertain, months.

Table 2: Revenue collected and distributed for the month of March 2012

GATE REVENUE BALLOON REVENUE
US$ KSH US$ KSH
Collected
Ticket sales 175,955.00 1,769,500.00 5,926,000.00 -
Non-ticket sales 7,850.00 53,000.00
Balance for Distribution 183,805.00 1,822,500.00 5,926,000.00 -
Distributed
Trans Mara County Council 67,661.30 666,170.00 3,259,300.00 -
Group Ranches 33,431.45 336,205.00
Sub-total 101,092.75 1,002,375.00 3,259,300.00 -
Mara Conservancy 87,712.25 820,125.00 2,666,700.00 -

Development

We purchased some Tordon and conducted a trial along the lower road to Purungat. Tordon was very effective against Datura but took longer against Parthenium.

We managed to work on some sections of the road to Oloololo Gate before the rains effectively stopped all road works.

We purchased all the items required to work on the toilets at our Little Governor’s camp – it has since been too wet to access the site.

We replaced the clutch and reconditioned the fuel system on “Ranger 3” the Land Rover allocated to the dog section.

We purchased and fitted four new tyres to the grader – this is now ready to start work as soon as weather conditions allow.

Report on focus for April

Start survey of boundary Still not done
Complete toilets and Kitchen at Little Governors Purchased all supplies and made the blocks
Purchase tyres for grader and prepare equipment for dry season Done
Order mobile cattle enclosures for holding cattle impounded for illegal grazing Not Done
Trial spray against invasive weeds: Parthenium and Datura spp Done

Focus for May 2012

  • Work on kitchen and toilets at Little Governors station;
  • Order mobile cattle enclosures;
  • Hold Board meeting in the Mara on the 19th;
  • Work on Annual Work Plan and Budget for 2012/13;
  • Continue to spray against invasive species; and
  • Ensure all equipment is ready for the next season.