Monthly Report July 2014

General

We had several days of light showers from the 10th and then again from the 25th. However, this rain was insufficient for any significant grass growth. We are looking at a serious drought and the possible death of thousands of cattle in the next three months.

The Chief Executive attended a talk by Dr Richard Leakey in Nairobi on the 10th. He started his talk with a thought provoking clip on the 6th Extinction – this is a reality, is caused by us, and happening rights now. For those of us who can – surely we must do everything in our power to protect what remains. It really struck a cord and brought into perspective some of the dilemmas that we, in conservation, have to deal with. Two cases in point:

  • Crossings – thousands of wildebeest are killed at crossings every year, partly because they are pushed to cross in unsuitable places by the crush of tourist vehicles. At least 8,000 – 10,000 animals have been killed annually in recent years, by being forced to cross in areas with steep, rocky banks;
  • We have a leopard with small cubs in a no off-road zone. The moment no one is watching, drivers break the rules, go off-road, and follow the leopard to her cubs. There is a chance that this level of harassment may result in the loss of her cubs.

The questions:

  • Is it right to sacrifice thousands, or even one animal to satisfy the needs of a few selfish tourists and their guides over a very short period of time?
  • Should unmanaged and irresponsible tourism be a contributing factor to the next extinction?

Surely, it is better to protect these animals for posterity and future generations – even if it means that a few people do not get the ultimate sighting.

The Chief Executive met with Ms Gisela Williams on the 12th, she is writing an article for the Wall Street Journal.

The Chief Executive and Mr Richard Roberts met with the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Dr Judi Wakhungu and a Trustee of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Ms Patricia Awori, on the 18th to discuss issues within the Mara and to update them on work done by the Mara Elephant Project.

Ms Angela Yang has returned to try and improve the sale of our promotional items, and seek donations to meet our projected shortfall. We originally expected a shortage of around US$ 200,000 for the year, but I think that we were optimistic and will be looking at requiring in the region of half a million dollars (Ksh 40 – 50 million).

Mr David Watson has produced an excellent Guide Book of the Mara Triangle. This will be on sale at the gates from 1st August. It is a must for anyone interested in knowing more about the Mara Triangle, and indeed the Mara.

Research

A paper in preparation by Amanda Subalusky et.al (The hippopotamus conveyor belt: vectors of carbon and nutrients from terrestrial grasslands to aquatic systems in sub-Saharan Africa) gives some very interesting insights into the impact that hippo have on both the terrestrial and river ecosystems of the Mara. The hippo is one species that has increased dramatically in the past 65 years – an estimated 1,500% increase since 1950. There were an estimated 4,143 hippo in the ecosystem in 2006, at a density of between 34-36 per kilometer. They play a major role in nutrient recycling and in loading the river and streams carbon and nutrients.

Amanda Subalusky and Chris Dutton have also been looking at the impact of wildebeest drowning on nutrient levels in the Mara. The combination of hippo inputs and wildebeest carcasses significantly increases Gross Primary Production (GPP) in the river – and hence the production of oxygen, which in turns leads to increases in bacterial and algal growth. The death of over six thousand wildebeest in the river each year may contribute more to GPP than the hippo population alone. However, the settling out of hippo feces in pools possibly results in rapid oxygen crashes – and subsequent fish die-off – when the river floods and there is a flux of hippo feces washed into the system; up to 80,000 kg/hour.

The Hyena Research Project report for the period ending June also highlighted some very interesting findings on the differences between their two research sites in the Mara. The project has been working in the Talek region since 1988 and in the Mara Triangle since 2008. The lion population around Talek has declined significantly in recent years, as have most other wildlife populations. There seem to be two exceptions: the hyena population has increased significantly and the cheetah population seems stable. Both are probably as a result of the marked decline in the number of lions since 2008. It is encouraging to note that the researchers consider the Triangle to be in “pristine condition” and that the overall biodiversity in the Triangle is increasing. They note that sightings of species such as lions, bat-eared fox and black-backed jackal are now significantly more frequent in the Triangle than around Talek.

Wildlife

The migration moved in at the beginning of July and by mid month there were hundreds of thousands in the lower third of the Triangle – spreading all the way to the escarpment. These herds gradually moved North and there were huge concentrations on the Mara River and on the Salt Lick – two of the areas that have remaining permanent water. A few days of rain towards the end of the month scattered the herds and by the 31st one very large concentration remained along the Mara River by Purungat.

Lion sightings have been excellent; they seem to be every where and are having a field day with all the wildebeest. We have noted that a number of well-known males have crossed the river from Musiara.

Up to six cheetah have been seen along the border and leopard sightings have been very common.

Staff

Charles Gitau has left the Conservancy to join Narok County. This leaves us with a major gap in our administration and finance department and we have started looking for his replacement.

Elections were held on the 27th for staff welfare office and pension bearers.

Tourism

The season has got off to a very slow start and we are concerned that we have not even met our very conservative estimates.

We have employed someone to monitor visitor and vehicle tickets in the Triangle, using the Android system developed by KAPS. After some teething problems the system seems to working well. We can now monitor any vehicle in the Reserve and determine ticket reference number; days a ticket is valid for and number of visitors in each category. We have written to KAPS with a few concerns and look forward to ironing out some of the minor issues. This is an excellent development and should enable us to check on any vehicle without inconveniencing the guests.

Professional, high end, safari operators are abandoning their traditional sites on the Narok portion of the game reserve in favour of the Triangle. They cite illegal grazing, the killing of wildlife and overcrowding as their main reasons for relocating to the Triangle. However, we have limited facilities and, in some cases, have been unable to accommodate them.

Security

The Mara Conservancy rangers arrested 41 people in July – five people were arrested in Kenya, 35 in the Northern Serengeti and one, with ivory, near Angata Barrikoi. We collected 745 snares during the month.

The Ngiro-are rangers arrested two people as they entered the Lemai Wedge on the evening of the 1st. They were on their way to set snares and 15 were recovered.

The Iseiya rangers arrested five more people on the 2nd during a late patrol. The five were arrested on the Tanzanian side of the border with spears and were on their way to the Mara River to hunt hippo. They had some wildebeest meat on them – they say they took it from a hyena.

Our rangers from Ol Kurruk arrested two poachers with three wire snares at Ngos Nanyuki on the 3rd. The same evening the Ngiro-are rangers arrested four, of five, people as they entered the Lemai Wedge along the Masanga route at 8.00 pm with seven wire snares.

Our rangers conducted a joint patrol across the river on the 5th and managed to arrest two people near Mama Kent. They had six ostrich eggs and seven wire snares. The same day our Ol Kurruk rangers arrested one person near Olosheti with two wire snares.

One of our informers told us of someone selling ivory on the Tanzanian side of the border, close to Angata Barrikoi. We teamed up with the intelligence unit from the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) and Tanzanian rangers and managed to arrest him on the 5th, with two tusks weighing about 12 kilograms. He was accompanied by someone with a firearm – sadly that person escaped.

Three people were arrested on the 7th in a late patrol by the Iseiya and Olkurruk rangers near Kokamange, in the Lemai Wedge, with 15 wire snares.

The Ol Kurruk/Oloololo rangers arrested one person near Olopikidongoe on the 8th with impala meat and seven wire snares. The following day our patrols collected 41 snares in the Lemai Wedge around Daraja Mbili.

A routine patrol along the Mara River found signs of four hippo and six warthog that had been recently killed and butchered by poachers in the riverine forest near Musiara.

The Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush at Konyoike on the 11th and arrested two people with 20 wire snares and food for several days.

Our patrols recovered 51 wire snares on the 13th and found three wildebeest that had been killed and butchered. One person was arrested by the Ngiro-are team at 7.45 pm as he and his companion came into the Lemai Wedge near Kokamange.

We collected 139 wire snares near Konyoike on the 15th – one zebra and four wildebeest had been killed and butchered. One wildebeest was rescued but had a dislocation. A patrol in that area the following day found that the animal had subsequently been killed and butchered by poachers. The rangers also found and collected an additional 16 wire snares near Miungu.

Two people were arrested near Machwechwe in the Northern Serengeti on the night of the 20th, at 2.00 am, as they came in to hunt wildebeest. They were part of a larger group of seven who were going to drive wildebeest into steep seasonal streams and then cripple them by hacking their hamstrings with machetes. This is a method of killing that has been on the increase in the broken terrain in that part of the Serengeti.

Our rangers collected 40 snares on the 21st and one person was arrested in a combined operation with our Tanzanian counterparts. That night the Iseiya team left at 3.00 am and set an ambush near Kokamange, in the Lemai Wedge. They managed to arrest two people carrying wildebeest meat. We also recovered six snares.

Two people were arrested by the Iseiya rangers at Lempise, in the Lemai Wedge, at 3.00 pm on the 23rd. They were on their way to set snares and eight snares were recovered.

Three ranger teams recovered 29 snares on the 24th and found a place where nine wildebeest had been killed and butchered. Three other wildebeest and one zebra were dead in snares and one wildebeest was rescued. One of the teams, the Oloololo/Anne Kent-Taylor team also found where a large male lion had been killed and skinned, quite close to Konyoike – a short distance into Tanzania.

Our Iseiya team arrested one person during a late patrol on the 25th as he, and one other, were entering the Lemai Wedge. He had seven wire snares. The Ngiro-are patrol recovered a further 82 snares on the same day. They found two dead wildebeest in the snares and where nine wildebeest had been butchered.

Our patrols on the 26th recovered 139 snares – spread out over most of the Lemai Wedge – some very close to the Kenya/Tanzania border, on the ridge above Maji ya Bett. They found 1 zebra and three wildebeest dead in the snares, rescued one and saw where several had been butchered.

The Iseiya patrol found 5 snares near Watu Kumi, in the Lemai Wedge and then patrolled along Daraja Mbili; where they arrested one person who was looking for a lost spear on the 28th. The Ngiro-are rangers recovered 69 snares near Maji ya Bett. Later, on the same patrol they arrested one person near Kokamange. That night our rangers arrested two more people as they came into the Lemai Wedge on the Masanga route.

The Iseiya team recovered 27 snares on the 29th. They saved 1 wildebeest and found where six had been butchered near Limana. On the 30th our teams joined a TANAPA ranger and patrolled the Ngira area, across the Mara River. They arrested two people with 10 wire snares. That evening they set an ambush at Kichwa Tembo in the Northern Serengeti and arrested three more people with seven snares. The three had killed, and were carrying, a zebra when arrested. The rangers found one wildebeest in a snare.

The Mara Elephant Project (MEP), in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), arrested one person with nine pieces of ivory weighing 84 kilos in Narok on the night of the 30th.

Revenue and Accounts

June was slightly better than June the previous year but our share of revenue was still well below our monthly requirements of around Ksh 14 million (US$ 160,000). We may be able to replenish some of our reserves in July and August but all the indications are that we will have a very short high season – starting mid-July and ending at the end of August.

Development

We completed cutting all our grass tracks.

We resurfaced long stretches of the road to Little Governors and then the tractors concentrated on minor road repairs, improving some of the drift crossings on the most commonly used tracks and improving access to Ndovu Camp.

We completed grading our roads and then graded the road up the escarpment, to Mpata.

We painted the staff quarters with a green and cement wash. We also improved the drainage at the staff quarters.

We repaired the transfer gearbox on one of our Land Rovers – damaged through misuse.

Report on focus for February

Complete cutting game viewing tracks Done
Complete grading roads Done
Open Equity account for Paypal One thing remaining
Burn one block Decided against
Work with County on stakeholders’ meeting Not done
Survey Reserve boundary Notone

Focus for August 2014

  • Prepare for Annual Audit;
  • Finalise Equity Account;
  • Put up posters at the gates;
  • Improve our customer relations at the gates and sell promotional items;
  • Continue with fund-raising to meet our shortfall;
  • Continue with minor road repairs;
  • Work with County on stakeholders’ meeting; and
  • Survey Reserve boundary.
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