The wet weather continued through December with heavy and prolonged rainstorms interspersed with a few days of sunny weather early in the month. However, from mid-December the rains became almost continuous, with all night rain followed by cloudy days and afternoon thunderstorms. The unremitting rains were certainly the heaviest on recent record, probably heavier than at any time since the floods in 1961. The Mara River sustained exceptionally high levels for several weeks, culminating in a flood that actually swept over the Mara South Bridge, severely eroding the approach and flooding the gate house, on the 31st. This is the first time that the river has reached such levels in at least 45 years. The non-stop rain did immense damage to the roads and we had a real problem in trying to protect the major roads. In the end we instituted an immediate fine of Ksh 5,000 for drivers using closed roads and a fee of Ksh 10,000 for rescues.
We received a very kind donation of two re-chargeable Mag-Lite torches and a tent, all worth Ksh 81,000, from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Ms Leslie Roach, a very strong supporter of the Mara Conservancy, has pledged to fund the 10 Year Management Plan. This is a very kind gesture and we are most grateful for her support. We had our first Core Planning Team meeting on the 20th and have scheduled a stakeholder’s workshop for the 29th January, to be held in Nairobi.
The Minister of Local Government attended a party at Sekenani Gate to celebrate the Mara’s designation as one of the seven wonders of the modern World, as designated by the American broadcasting company ABC, on the 21st. As usual Trans Mara and the Conservancy were not acknowledged as being part of the Masai Mara National Reserve. This is a perennial problem – in which Narok County Council will not recognise the fact that they are not the sole proprietors of the Reserve.
Most of the zebra wanted to leave the Triangle in early December but were stopped by the high water levels in the Mara River. The river did come down for a few days in mid December and the some of the zebra and the remaining wildebeest took the opportunity to cross. In one crossing, of about 50 wildebeest, the whole crossing drowned and not one animal made it onto the other side.
One zebra was found badly injured, with a deeply embedded wire snare around it’s neck, the animal was destroyed.
We sent the road team home for the Christmas and New Year Holidays, leaving a skeleton staff to cover emergencies.
The Chief Executive took 7 days off over Christmas and New Year.
The constant rain did have an effect on tourist numbers but despite this we continued to have relatively high occupancy rates in the Triangle, with Mara Serena remaining almost full on many nights. We continue to have a problem, in which the drivers and guides have scant regard for the environment, and are only interested in providing a game viewing and balloon experience to their clients; irrespective of the damage caused to the environment and Reserve infrastructure. The large number of tourists and vehicles resulted in a number of problems, with considerable damage caused by on and off-road driving. The section between Oloololo gate and Mara Serena became impassable for all two wheel vehicles, as did other sections of the Triangle. This was communicated to KATO for circulation to all their members. The flood on the 31st essentially closed off traffic to the Mara Triangle through Sekenani and cut off the road between Ololoolo Gate and Mara Serena for all vehicles.
KATO also issued a warning to all visitors to the Mara that the access roads were impassable just before Christmas and advised their clients to seek alternative accommodation. A number of camps and lodges had to re-locate their clients and the floods on the 31st actually washed away at least one camp and parts of a further three or four camps on the Narok side of the river.
A group calling themselves the Oloisukut Conservation Trust has been established to manage a conservation area encompassing land surrounding Mpata Club, Olonana and Mara Siria Camps. They have given notice that they will start collecting revenue from the beginning of January 2007. We will probably have to establish a system where visitors to camps in the Trust area pay them fees and only pay Park entrance fees if they visit the Triangle; as is already the case for all other visitors staying on group ranches and visiting the National Reserve. This may have a minor effect on our revenue projections, as at present all clients to those three camps pay all their fees to the Conservancy.
Table 1 shows day visitors into and out of the Mara Triangle from other parts of the Mara in December
Two poachers were arrested during the month; partly because it was so wet and difficult to move around and partly because the wa Kuria were busy tilling their fields. The total number of poachers arrested since June 2001 now stands at 742.
Mr Jeff Greene spent three days in the Conservancy training the rangers in patrol techniques and self defence. The training was well received and we are most grateful to Mr Greene for his support.
The tracks of three poachers were seen entering the Triangle on the 12th, we mounted a three day operation to find them but never located their camp.
The Ngiro-are team arrested 2 people on the evening of the 16th as they entered the Serengeti along the escarpment. The poachers had two wire snares and a knife.
Revenue and Accounts
We can expect a significant drop on our estimated revenue for December and January as a result of the rains. This drop will be compounded by the exceptionally strong Kenya shilling which is now trading at Ksh 68 to 1 US$, an appreciation of nearly 6% in the past six months.
Mr Charles Ngugi has completed the first six month’s accounts for the period ending 30th November. The Profit and Loss account for the period indicates revenue of Ksh 47.1 million against expenditure of Ksh 41.1 million giving us a surplus for six months of Ksh 6 million. Both revenue and expenditure were higher than budgeted and a detailed variance report will be prepared for the Board in early January.
We had to put almost all development on hold because of the weather.
When it became apparent that we would be unable to use the campsites along the river between Little Governor’s and Mara Serena we located and cleared five new emergency campsites downstream from Serena. Most of the people who had booked campsites over the Christmas and New Year period ended up cancelling and the new sites were not used.
The tractors spent almost all their time pulling out vehicles, this was a particular problem with supply trucks and our tractors on occasion spent almost 24 hours trying to assist fuel and supply trucks from as far away as Sekenani gate.
The damage caused to the Mara Bridge on the 31st was assessed by the District Roads Engineer on the 2nd January – the bridge itself appears to be sound but damage caused to the approaches is estimated by the engineer to cost around Ksh 1 million. Small vehicles will be allowed to use the bridge and all passengers will have to walk. No trucks and lorries will be allowed until the road is repaired.
It is difficult to estimate the cost of repairing infrastructure damaged by the rains but we can estimate that between Ksh 3-5 million will be required to bring the roads and infrastructure up to a reasonable standard again.
We purchased 10,000 plastic bags for the experimental road along the Mara River that is being supported by the Keidenaren Trust. All work has been suspended on this road and we will probably not be able to resume work for several weeks.
Report on focus for December
Focus for January
· Repair damaged infrastructure and roads, weather permitting;
· Complete toilet block ate Oloololo Gate;
· Hold Board meeting on 12th;
· Hold stakeholders meeting on 29th for 10 year management plan;
· Send Cheetah 1 for repair in Nairobi; and
· Negotiate purchase of Cheetah II.