December weather was characterized by beautiful sunny days interspersed with local thunderstorms on some evenings. Most of the storms passed through the same area between Mara Serena and the Olpunyatta swamp, leaving Oloololo and Purungat dry. This is unusual for this time of year, but then the weather during the dry season was exceptionally wet.
The Chief Executive met with Mr Todd Cromwell at Kichwa Tembo on the 4th. Mr Cromwell is starting an initiative called “Kenyan Kids on Safari” and is soliciting support from the camps and lodges to host Kenyan children in the Mara during low seasons.
We were most saddened to hear of the death of Mr John Naiguran on the 5th. John Naiguran was Clerk to the County Council of Trans Mara when the Conservancy started and was one of the people instrumental in granting our first management contract with the Council. Without his vision and support the Mara Conservancy would probably never have taken off. John Naiguran was a very well respected member of the community, with a long history in the Mara. He had been Senior Warden for the whole Mara before becoming Clerk to Narok and Trans Mara County Councils. Mr Naiguran was buried at his home near Kilgoris on the 19th.
The Chief Executive attended a one-day workshop hosted by the Prime Minister’s Task Force on the Mau on the 10th. The workshop focused on setting and securing boundaries for the forests in the Mau Complex. The Mau is a critical water-tower, five major rivers flowing into Lake Victoria originate in the Mau. The rate of de-afforestation is alarming and already we are seeing a perennial river like the Mara increasingly showing the characteristics of a seasonal river.
We heard of the death of Izabella Adamczyk-Martin on the 11th. Izabella had been coming to the Mara for at least 15 years, spending several months a year at Mara Serena. She was last here in September this year and was due out here again for Christmas. She was an excellent photographer, with a passion for cheetah. Izabella was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a number of years ago and then with throat cancer a little over a year ago. “Mama Serena”, as she was known - we will miss you and our sympathies go out to your son and daughter.
A meeting was held on the 11th to discuss developments on Koiyaki Group Ranch, to the North of the Reserve. The meeting was called by the Masai Mara North Association (MMNA), a collection of camp and lodge owners based on Koiyaki Blocks 1 & 2 leases on private plots of land. There are currently two groups competing to lease land on Koiyaki, the other being Great Plains; each have signed leases on between 300-400 scattered parcels of land. This could potentially fragment a crucial dispersal area for the Mara and will almost certainly lead to the land-owners playing one group against the other in order to exploit the situation for financial gain.
The Chief Executive met with Dr Cheryl Mvula on the 15th. They reviewed progress on the “mystery drives” and agreed that the winner will be announced in the New Year.
There was a Mara security meeting, chaired by an Assistant Director in the Kenya Wildlife Service, held on the 23rd at Keekorok to discuss security issues in and around the Game Reserve. As a result we have increased security to camps sites in the Triangle and worked out a regime for night patrols and ambushes; we also agreed to place personnel at the Serena airstrip to monitor movements of aircraft and vehicles.
Mr Wilberforce Wambulwa, the Clerk to the County Council of Trans Mara, has been transferred to Kwale; we are yet to meet the new Clerk.
The “Serena” pride is beginning to struggle to maintain condition, they are staying in a very small area and are obviously not finding enough food. One of the lionesses was injured in a fight with some males and hardly moved for several days, she has recovered but another of the lionesses lost one of her three cubs, possibly to buffalo.
The four jackal pups that we have following are growing up very fast, they were born about three months after most jackals gave birth but are doing well, despite the lack of food.
The Masai initiates will be converging into their “manyattas” in the near future. This is a time when they traditionally become warriors, learn from their elders and hunt lions. We can expect that they will try and hunt lions in the Mara over the next few months. Lions near the escarpment are particularly vulnerable, the warriors watch where vehicles congregate – signifying a predator. They mark the spot, come down the escarpment and kill the lion when all the vehicles have returned to their respective camps.
Dr Asuka Takita is continuing with vaccination campaign along the escarpment, she has vaccinated 2,067 dogs in our campaign to eradicate canine distemper and rabies. The livestock guardian dog imported from Namibia has been moved to the new demonstration “boma” and has settled down with his flock of sheep. He will start accompanying the sheep at the beginning of January.
The second study tour left on the morning of the third. We had an unfortunate incident when loading one of the busses to come down to the Mara on the 2nd; a grader tyre fell on someone, snapping his leg. The person, not an employee, was rushed to the Aga Khan Hospital.
David Sancha and Benson Gisoi were transferred to the Council at the beginning of the month in a routine transfer of staff. Mr David Mpilei has also been transferred for persistent absenteeism.
We have started training the eight new rangers posted to the Conservancy buy the Council in recent months. The rangers will undergo five weeks of basic training at Mara Bridge before they are incorporated into the main ranger force.
The road team went home for Christmas and will resume on the 5th January.
Tourist numbers have consistently been about 25% down on last year for the period July through December. Most analysts in the tourism sector believe that 2009 will be a bad year and are projecting a drop of up to 40% on 2006/7 for the period January to June. This will undoubtedly lead to some consolidation in the industry; many of the newer camps within the Mara region were heavily financed and are struggling to meet their loan re-payments. This drop in tourist numbers could have serious implications for our cash-flow in 2009.
We arrested a total of five poachers in December, bringing to total to 1,116.
The combined Kenya Wildlife Service, Conservancy and Narok security operation moved outside the Reserve, to Ol Motonyi, on the 1st. They found one dead elephant, with four poisoned arrows and the ivory removed. Three suspects were arrested in a day and night operation – they were charcoal burners camped very close to the dead elephant.
The Ngiro-are team found some wire snares along the escarpment when removing illegal grazers on the 4th. We mounted an operation on the 6th along the escarpment and arrested one young Kipsigis from Kondoimet as he came into the Triangle to set snares for small antelopes. He was taken to Lolgorien police station.
The Ngiro-are team and their Tanzanian counterparts arrested three wa Kuria poachers as they entered the Lemai Wedge from Masanga at about 8.00 pm on the 6th. They were part of a group of seven that were on their way to hunt gazelles.
The Iseiya team came across some wire snares on the morning of the 8th, after an all-night ambush in the Mananja area of the Lemai Wedge. They left the snares and set up an ambush that evening, together with rangers from Kokatende. One person, from a group of four, was arrested as he came in to check the snares at about 7.30 pm. They had seen the rangers that morning and had disbursed; the person arrested had separated from the other three and was on his way back to their camp. Our rangers never caught up with the others, although they also returned to camp and took some meat from a zebra they had killed. In all 40 wire snares were recovered and two zebra had been killed.
We had a serious security incident on the night of the 15th, a film crew from One Planet were attacked and robbed at about 10.00 pm. The crew had been filming for a series on mothers and young for the past few months. The thieves left with one very valuable camera, two very expensive lenses, charger and batteries – they left most other valuable items. It would appear that they knew what they were looking for. The two film crew were beaten and cut, the cameraman had two broken ribs and cuts on the chest. We flew them to Nairobi at first light, arriving in Nairobi around 6.30 am. We brought in two bloodhounds from Ol Pejeta in Laikipia but sadly they lost the tracks and we were unable to apprehend anyone. These dogs have been very successful when used on other occasions and we probably made a mistake in taking them off a set of tracks that they had been following for another set that were considered fresher.
This robbery, and a number of other incidents in the greater Mara, has highlighted the need for us to keep our own bloodhounds. We have approached some very experienced trainers in America and they have located two pups; more importantly they have agreed to donate their time and train the dogs in the Mara if we can pay for transport cost. We are looking at the dogs arriving in March 2009 and will be looking for funds to support this very worthwhile project. Ms Diana Carr, a retired veterinarian, has agreed to donate £ 5,000 towards this project.
We deployed rangers in all camp sites over the Christmas and New Year period.
Revenue and Accounts
Our management accounts for the period ending 30th November show gross income of Ksh 54.8 million as against a budgeted income of Ksh 52.6 million – a 4% differential. When we removed direct costs associated with commissions we remained with Ksh 45 million, as against budget of Ksh 42 million. We managed to keep recurrent expenditure to within 3% of budget, Ksh 43.6 million against budget of Ksh 42.4 million, giving us a slight cash surplus for the first half of the year. However, all the indications are that the next six-month period will be very difficult; tourist numbers will be well down, and we are going into an extended low season.
We printed a small batch if new tickets, in case the Park fees increase in January. The fees are o increase in line with the Kenya Wildlife Service fees for their “Premium” parks and entail a 50% increase in most categories. However, we are awaiting approval from the Ministry of Local Government before we can implement the new fees. The increase in fees will help off-set the anticipated decline in revenue brought about by a drop in tourism for 2009.
We had all the assets coded and numbered as per recommendations from our Auditors – this work was undertaken by a separate audit company.
We graded the Serena airstrip on the 14th, we also patched up some areas that had become eroded by heavy aircraft taking off.
We completed work on the housing at Mara Bridge.
We worked on the road to Ngiro-are, filling in areas that had been badly eroded. We also continued work on the river road.
We cleared the camp-sites in preparation for the influx over Christmas and New Year.
Report on focus for December
Focus for January 2009
· Hold Board meeting on the 16th;
· Complete revised work-plan and circulate to the Board;
· Work on activities for the ten-year management plan;
· Start work on toilet block and house repairs at Oloololo;
· Continue raining ranger recruits;
· Plan for leadership training for Officers and NCOs; and
· Do spot grading od damaged sections of the roads.