There were a few days of rain around the end of the first week, it was sufficient to increase the flow in the Mara River slightly, before dropping to even lower levels. The river had probably reached the lowest flow in living memory, maybe even ever. The water was a dark green from all the hippo waste and hippo were concentrated in a few pools. There was one significant fish die-off and we were probably fortunate that there was insufficient rain to create a surge, killing off more fish. More rain in the last ten days of April got the river flowing properly but was insufficient to fill our water courses.
We have started working with Angama to build an immigration post at their airstrip. This will enable people to clear customs and immigration in the Mara before flying to either Tanzania or Uganda, a huge benefit to those who travel between the Mara and Serengeti or the parks in Uganda. Air Kenya have already indicated that they will be starting a service between the Mara and Entebbe on the 1st June.
The Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, the Honourable Najib Balala and his family stayed at Kichwa Tembo over Easter.
The Chief Executive attended a two day meeting of the Greater Serengeti Conservation Society (GSCS), a cross border initiative looking at the greater Mara/Serengeti ecosystem, from the 26-28th. The meeting was well attended by researchers, senior staff from the wildlife departments in Tanzania (NCA, TANAPA, TAWA and TAWIRI), the Tanzanian tourism sector, NGOs and members from Narok County and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). It was facilitated by Kaush Arha, one of the founders of this initiative. The theme for the meeting was the very recent paper by Veldhuis et al. (see the section on Research) and it looked at five key issues: livestock and livelihoods, fencing and boundaries, tourism, poaching and inter-agency collaboration. I discuss much of the paper under the Research section but there were one or two key issues that did not appear in the paper, but were presented.
· Areas with intense tourism development appear to affect the migration – both the Mara and Seronera have experienced a significant decline in the number of days the wildebeest stay there – up to 35 days less per year in the Mara. This has major implications: a 25% reduction in the time wildebeest stay in the Mara could seriously impact tourism;
· Human activity along the protected area boundaries has a serious impact on wildlife populations well into the protected area.
We have agreed to host the next meeting in the Mara on the 18/19 April 2020.
There was a memorial for Willie Roberts on Ol Choro on the 27th. Willie was a visionary and conservation hero, he founded one of the first, if not the first, conservancy in Kenya on Ol Choro; he was the founder of the Mara Conservancy, together with Governor Tunai and Kuya ole Kijabe – certainly without his charisma, drive and vision the Conservancy would never have happened.
Six of our staff went on a course for the Monitoring of Illegally Killed Elephants (MIKE) hosted by the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) and jointly funded by ourselves.
Ms Eve Hills has just started a project called the Mara Leopard Watch, a year-long MSc project using camera traps. She will have cameras in the Triangle until June.
A paper has just been published by Veldhuis et al in Science. This is probably the most comprehensive, detailed and up-to-date paper on trends within the Greater Serengeti – Mara Ecosystem (GSME) and is well worth reading for anyone interested in what is happening in this region
Cross-boundary human impacts compromise the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. (April 2019)
Veldhuis M P, Ritchie M E, Ogutu J O, Morrison T A, Beale C A, Estes A B, Mwakilema W, Ojwang G O, Parr C L, Probert J, Wargute P W, Hopcraft G C, Olff H. www.sciencemag.org/content/363/6434/1424/suppl/DC1 April 2019
It is difficult to precis an eighty page document into a paragraph but, as can be expected, too many people are causing significant environmental degradation, loss of wildlife habitat and a reduction in wildlife populations.
We have 40 years of excellent data on wildlife and livestock trends in the Mara ecosystem as a result of aerial counts done by the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS), using very consistent methods. The paper looks at livestock and wildlife trends in three different areas within the Mara ecosystem; The National Reserve, Conservancies and the dispersal areas. Table 1, below shows the overall trends between 1977/8 and 2016. Only shoats (sheep and goats) and elephant have shown any increase. Shoats have increased by over 200% and elephant by 5% - one may ask, why elephant? The most logical explanation is that elephant have been squeezed into the ecosystem as their overall habitat has been reduced; couple this with the overall increase in elephant populations since 1989, increased global awareness and stronger wildlife laws.
Table 1: Livestock and wildlife trends in the Mara ecosystem 1977 – 2016
This paper should be a serious wake-up call to anyone interested in conserving the ecosystem. I have just highlighted the trends in wildlife and livestock populations, here the picture is particularly shocking because there is no real difference between the rate of overall decline, and the reduction in the Reserve and Conservancies; although the researchers note that species decreased more, the further they were from the protected area. I imagined that cattle numbers would have been lower over the whole area, as the land becomes more degraded it is unable to sustain the large numbers of cattle. In this respect the Main Reserve has acted as a grass bank for cattle – there were 28,756 counted inside the Reserve in 2016, a 1,053% increase in 40 years (there was an increase of 1,174% in the number of shoats over the same period). This is probably a small fraction of the total number relying on the Reserve, as most grazing is done at night by livestock living outside. As the land becomes more degraded people move from cattle to sheep – there are now over a million sheep and goats in the ecosystem – accelerating the rate of degradation. The sub-division of land is now also having a major impact, some areas have been set aside as conservancies and one or two of them have been reasonably successful at balancing the needs of the landowners with conservation. Many have not, and this is also reflected in the significant decline in wildlife across the conservancies. It is the dispersal (community) areas that are showing the most change – 4,818 fenced plots were recorded in 2016, from virtually none forty years ago. Combine these fenced plots with the areas taken over for large-scale agriculture, and the areas open to wildlife have significantly declined.
There is no doubt that Kenya’s conservation policies are not working and this begs the question why? Too many people is obviously a factor.
I believe that there are a number of other factors that have led to these catastrophic declines, much of it to do with Government policy and the interference of “Conservation” NGOs.
1. Conservation is not recognized as a legitimate form of land use in rangeland areas;
a. This has led to the fragmentation of rangelands and land-use practices that are incompatible with wildlife conservation;
2. Incentives are given for agriculture, and strong disincentives for conservation;
a. A case in point;
i. A farmer does not require management plans, environmental approvals, registration with a Government body, and on top of that gets Government subsidies, soft loans and tax breaks;
ii. A conservationist gets none of the above, is taxed fully, has to comply with so many regulations – all to protect a resource over which he/she has no ownership rights;
iii. This leads to insufficient returns from conservation and a perception that it must be funded by donors, or even worse, the land is taken up for other uses (this is happening at an alarming rate in the Mara ecosystem and has already happened on Kitengela, outside Nairobi).
3. Kenya promotes tourism at the expense of conservation;
a. This is leading to serious degradation of the product on which tourism is based;
b. Too many camps, lodges and tour operators with little, or no, regulation;
i. This leads to a complete free-for-all in tourism and a perception that tourism is more important than conservation.
4. Preservationist NGOs have had an undue influence on conservation and Government policy in Kenya with their emotional no hunting, no utilization stand.
a. This has led to a perception that wildlife has no value to the landowner unless they have sufficient species and numbers to attract donors or tourists;
b. Many rangeland areas are insufficiently attractive to either, the Loita Plains in the Mara ecosystem is a case. The plains are vital in sustaining the Loita wildebeest migration but are not sufficiently attractive to bring in donors or tourists. Hence, over 4,800 fences, accelerating fragmentation of this rangeland and a continued decline in wildebeest and zebra numbers – the Loita wildebeest population is down to 25% of its 1977 numbers. Zebra, never were a preferred meat are now being hunted down with motor cycles and butchered wholesale;
c. Human/wildlife conflict is now becoming a major issue and more is now being spent on compensation than on wildlife protection.
Dr Limo attended to a giraffe that was having trouble in giving birth, it was a breach birth and the calf was dead but the mother survived.
Zebra, and a few wildebeest, started returning to the Triangle and by the middle of the month there were significant numbers, along the border and on the burnt areas. The burnt areas certainly attracted large numbers of wildlife and there were nice herds of topi, zebra and Thompson’s gazelle. These is turn attracted the predators and sightings of lion, cheetah and leopard were excellent.
One lion cub along the Maji Machafu lugga was seen with a broken back leg on the 21st, a few days later it was found dead.
Dr Limo treated an elephant on the 25th, near Nyati 1. The elephant had a severe swelling below the left eye, probably the result of a poisoned arrow.
Thirteen poachers were arrested in April, five more people were arrested for treasure hunting. A total of 17 wire snares were recovered.
Three people were arrested at Maji Machafu in the Northern Serengeti at midnight on the 6th by the Nigro-are team. That same night the rangers from Kilo 2 joined forces with a few rangers from Nigro-are to act on information from our community scouts that people were looking for treasure on the escarpment, at Mawe ya Sang. They managed to arrest five people who had dug a large pit in search of this “treasure” (this story has been going around for many years and there have been numerous attempts at finding it – supposedly hidden by the Germans during WW1). The five were working at night, had slaughtered a sheep and had dug up two very old human skeletons – which they placed in sacks. The five were taken to the police in Lolgorien.
One person was arrested near the VIP camp in the Lemai Wedge on the night of the 9th, he was one of two and was hunting at night with dogs. The next night the Iseiya team managed to arrest two people near Mbali Mbali in the Northern Serengeti. They were part of a group of four who were hunting with dogs and had killed an oribi. One of the two was tracked for three kilometers by using one of our dogs and was found hidden in a pool of water. The Nigro-are team had arrested one person near Lempise, he appeared to have been cutting grass for thatch.
Two people were arrested near Daraja la Mzee in the Lemai Wedge on the 13th. They were part of a group of six who had entered the Park at 3.00 am and were set to hunt until evening – they had already killed one warthog when arrested. Sopia, one of our dogs, and her handler Ranger K Sanare, tracked the poachers for several kilometers before catching up with them – the second arrest they had made in a week.
Seventeen wire snares were recovered near the Kigonga Poachers’ route on the18th, the most snares we have found for months.
The Nigro-are rangers arrested two, of ten, poachers who were hunting gazelle with dogs on the night of the 23rd near the Kogatende airstrip. The following day one more person was arrested by the Iseiya rangers near Mbali Mbali in the Northern Serengeti. Two more people were arrested by the Nigro-are rangers at Olaro Nyioke in the Lemai Wedge, one of them was tracked by Morani, one of our dogs.
Revenue and Accounts
Our management accounts for the first three quarters of the year reflect a healthy situation for us (see Table 2) , we managed 16% more income than budgeted for but increased expenditure by 6%. Payment of arrears for use of aircraft and maintaining Land Rovers were two of the big items not adequately budgeted for. The third major item was in repairs to infrastructure – essentially the new stores, the Administrator’s house and the general upkeep of our infrastructure.
Table 2: Income and expenditure for the first three quarters of 2018/9
For the first month in well over a year our March revenue was down on the previous year – by 9.6%.
Repairs and maintenance
We now have our own petrol tank and pump, this makes life much easier.
We agreed with the management of Mara Engai to build visitor toilets at Kilo 2, work has started on the toilets.
We put up more “no off-road” signs.
We burnt an additional block between the BBC Lugga and the main Purungat to Serena road, this immediately attracted large numbers of herbivores and a few cheetah.
We provided a solar system to the GSU house at Oloololo, they had never been linked to our solar system at the gate.
A team went to assess a dam site in Keringani 7th, together with the contractor. This is part of a commitment we had made to the community and we have pledges of Ksh 3 million from ourselves, Angama Trust and Mara Engai. The quote came to Ksh 4.12 million.
A shaft holding the tail vane on the windmill at Nigro-are broke on the 14th, this was repaired by Kijito and is now working well.
We rebuilt the tents in the Chief Executive’s camp.
We built one more uni-hut at Kilo 2 and put a roof over it to catch water.
Report on focus for April
Focus for May 2019
· Hold Board meeting 17th ;
· Complete Annual Work Plan and Budget;
· Work with Angama on toilet at the Hippo Pool;
· Start grading roads, weather permitting;
· Finalize budget for Kerengani dam;
· Sell Suzukis;
· Build temporary Immigration Post; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.