We had very heavy thunderstorms during the first week of April, these storms continued throughout most of the month, with a little respite in the last week.
The very tense and difficult political situation that we faced in March continued through the first half of April and only subsided when the Warden Operations and Chairman to the County Council of Trans Mara were arrested and charged with incitement on the 16th. We then suspended a number of staff members and then had those who were Council staff transferred back to the Council.
We received a copy of a letter from the Clerk, Narok County Council (NCC) to the Clerk, County Council of Trans Mara (TMCC). This letter stated that NCC is “losing colossal amounts of revenue due to its failure to collect Park entry fee from Tourists entering our side of the Park across Mara River/Governors Camp crossing point.” We did an analysis of the number of visitors who may be crossing the river from Little Governors and those that stayed on the Narok side but crossed the river at Mara Bridge to do their game drives in the Triangle. The table below summarizes the findings – the Triangle gets five times more visitors from Narok than go from Little Governors – a net loss to TMCC and Conservancy of US$ 686,000 (Ksh 54 million) in the past year alone.
We held the Annual General Meeting and a board meeting on the 17th.
We had a visit from Council, SNV (a Dutch development NGO) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers from the Mid-Rift Conservation Group. This group were looking at game reserve management options for Lake Bogoria, Baringo and Kamnarok Game Reserves. A delegation from the County Council of Trans Mara also joined them. This included the Clerk, Vice-chairman and councilors and technical officers from the Council.
The Chairman and Chief Executive met with the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service on the 23rd to brief him on the current situation in the Mara Triangle.
A young lioness was reported dead on the 19th – it is presumed that the lioness was one of the Serena pride. This pride had just returned from across the river after an absence of about a month.
A lioness had cubs somewhere near the burn, one of the cubs was found on the 23rd with one of Notch’s sons. The male was nuzzling and biting the cub and it died soon afterwards. We presume the mother moved the other cubs.
Most of the zebra that had come across in March moved back towards the Loita Plains in the middle part of April. The zebra helped sustain the lion population and there were some very dramatic crossings, with very hungry crocodiles feeding on the zebra as they went North.
One male lion was injured near Sankuria, probably by a buffalo. Dr Mijele treated the lion on the 25th and also checked on an injured giraffe on the escarpment. The giraffe was too weak to get up after treatment and was euthanized.
Ole Sampei, an elder from Partikilat on the escarpment, is the first member of the community to make an acceptable predator-proof enclosure for his livestock. In fact his enclosure is probably even better than the demonstration enclosure we had built near Kawai. Ole Sampei is the first member to be registered to our new compensation scheme – we will compensate anyone for livestock killed if they have an acceptable enclosure.
The “community” held a stage-managed demonstration against the Conservancy in the middle of the month – ostensibly because the Mara Conservancy were stealing and selling animals from the Reserve. This followed a comment in the press by the Member of Parliament for Kilgoris that said “officials of Mara Conservancy have been illegally transferring wild animals from Masai Mara Game Reserve to private conservancies”.
We received a copy of the hyena research project report for the quarter ending 31st March. The researchers are working with six different clans, totalling 237 animals. We are also beginning to get some information on wildlife distribution between burnt and un-burnt areas.
A scientific paper published in the Journal of Zoology by J O Ogutu, H P Piepha, H T Dublin, N Bhola and R S Reid entitled “Dynamics of Mara-Serengeti ungulates in relation to land use changes” was picked up by the local and international press. Most of the newspaper articles focused on the dramatic declines in seven ungulate populations between 1989 and 2003, with such headlines as “Crisis in the Mara”. The authors of the scientific paper were undoubtedly accurate in their findings, although it was difficult to determine whether the declines were recorded in the Masai Mara National Reserve only, or whether they referred to the Mara ecosystem. It would be easier to believe that the figures related to the ecosystem – the paper accurately highlighted the issues, namely: illicit harvest, livestock incursions, settlements and human population growth. One of the most alarming figures presented in the paper related to human population growth, 92 times the number of homesteads and 62 times the number of houses since 1950. There can be few paces in the World, outside a few cities, that have experienced such a massive increase in the human population in less than 60 years. There is no doubt that human pressure, and land-use changes from pastoralism to agriculture have had a huge impact on the wildlife in the ecosystem. However, there are a number of positive developments in the Mara:
The Mara Conservancy – the first public/private sector management agreement for conservation in Kenya. The Mara Conservancy has virtually eliminated poaching in the Mara Triangle and the area has undoubtedly witnessed a resurgence of many species that were being affected by poaching. The paper quoted figures provided by the Conservancy of poachers arrested but did not make it clear that the majority of poachers are actually arrested in Tanzania, a result of the amazing collaboration we have with our Tanzanian counterparts.
Private Conservancies – the sub-division of land in the Mara dispersal area offered opportunities for the tourist industry to invest in conservation through the formation of private conservancies. The first of these, the Olare Orok Conservancy (OOC) enabled individual landowners to receive a fair price for setting aside their land for conservation, through leases. The leaseholders, a group of tour and camp operators, are now able to provide management and security. This is the way forward for protecting the land outside the National Reserve and is now being replicated on other, key, areas adjoining the Reserve.
These two initiatives, together with a ten-year management plan for the National Reserve, have set an excellent platform to stop the decline in wildlife numbers in the Mara ecosystem. Indeed, I believe that there is already an improvement and would welcome a series of new counts to verify this.
The Chief Executive, Warden Operations and Warden Ngiro-are met with officers from the African Field Training Services who are currently training all the field forces in the Serengeti. We discussed the possibility of them training our rangers. Martin Mthembu and Trevor Langerfeld, the two trainers, will come over at some stage to discuss our training needs.
The Police arrested the Warden Operations, Mr Edward Nkoitoi, on the 16th. A number of other staff were suspended for three months and others were transferred internally. Mr Samuel Kortom was sent by the Council to replace Mr Nkoitoi. Kortom is no stranger to the Triangle; he has been based here for many years in the past.
Tourist numbers dropped off dramatically after Easter, suddenly Mara Serena was operating at 20% occupancy, down from around 60% for the first half of the month.
The Ministry of Local Government approved an increase in Park fees, in line with fees implemented by the Kenya Wildlife Service in January 2009. It has been decided that the new fees will be effective from 1st July 2009.
A total of nine poachers were arrested in April, bringing the total to 2,155. 20 wire snares were also recovered. Our security teams also arrested a number of people for illegal grazing along the escarpment. Illegal grazing has been a major problem in other areas of the Mara, especially near Keekorok and around Talek Gate on the Narok side of the Reserve.
A combined patrol by the Iseiya and Ngiro-are teams arrested four, of nine, poachers in an overnight patrol conducted on the 2nd. The poachers were arrested at 2.00 am, as they came into the Lemai Wedge to hunt gazelles, they had not killed anything.
The Ngiro-are team arrested three poachers on the 16th, during a daytime patrol near Kokamange in the Lemai Wedge. They had not yet hunted, 20 wire snares were recovered near the Kinyangaga outpost during the same patrol.
The Iseiya team found where poachers had killed a hippo along the BBC lugga on the 23rd, the poachers had left a few days earlier. The following day our rangers also found where poachers had killed a zebra near Nyumba Nane – both these places are in the Triangle. These poachers are the ones we have been trying to catch for the last few months, they have been lucky in avoiding arrest so far.
The Iseiya team arrested two, of five, poachers on the night of the 23rd, at 9.45. The poachers were on their way to hunt Thompson’s Gazelle in the Lemai Wedge, near Nyanguki, when arrested.
Revenue and Accounts
The able below shows our revenue and expenditure for the first nine months of the financial year.
We have virtually completed the kennels at Ngiro-are for two new bloodhounds.
We had problems with both our tractors, at one point they were both unserviceable. They are now both working again and we have continued to work on the river road to Oloololo Gate.
We repaired the gyro-mower in anticipation of cutting grass tracks in June/July.
Report on focus for April
Focus for May
· Complete kennels;
· Tracker dogs due to arrive on 29th May from the US;
· Complete Annual Work Plan and budget;
· Recruit and train dog handlers for tracker dog unit; and
· Hold Board meeting and EGM on the 22nd ;