The rains continued until Christmas, with some major storms flooding extensive areas of the Triangle and washing away some of the road surfaces. We are fortunate that we had invested so much in preparing for El Niño and that managed to keep the roads open, although there was damage, especially along the river road from Oloololo and the road to Little Governors.
The County Government held their Investment Conference in the Mara Triangle on the 3rd and 4th. The Conference was a great success, with attendance by: the Governor and senior County personnel; some major investors; the Deputy President; the new Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and numerous members of the local community. In all, it was estimated that 900 people attended. It was reported that the Governor signed deals worth in excess of Ksh 50 billion (US$ 50 million) for infrastructure and agricultural development in Narok County.
We started receiving reports early on Sunday 6th that a pride of lions had been poisoned near Musiara, in the Reserve. It transpired that lions killed three cows when grazing illegally in the Reserve. The owners then took some meat and laced the remainder with what appeared to be Marshall (carbosulfan), an agricultural insecticide that has been banned in Kenya. The poison is not as lethal as carbofuran (Furudan) but it made a number of the lions very sick and killed two – both famous lionesses from the “Marsh Pride”. This raised a media storm, not least because the BBC had been filming the pride since June for a new series called “Dynasties” and were the first to find the poisoned lions. A third animal, a young male that was badly affected on the 6th and treated by Dr Limo from the KWS/David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team in the Mara, was subsequently badly gored by a herd of buffalo and had to be euthanized on the 9th. The poison also killed eleven white-backed vultures. Our Conservancy rangers arrested two people and they were charged in a Narok Court. They were released on a bond of Ksh 2 million (US$ 20,000) each just after Christmas.
The Marsh Pride are probably the most famous pride of lions in the World; they have been followed, filmed and had books written about them since the 1970’s. Each lion has been named and people know their family history as well as any human family. This pride has recently been under real threat from illegal incursions into the Reserve by cattle at night. The most famous male (Scar) from this pride was shot and wounded last year and now spends most of his time in the Triangle. The two lionesses that died, Bibi and Sienna, were the matriarchs. It will be interesting to see what happens but there is a danger that the pride will fragment and disburse – not because of any natural cycle, but because of human interference in what is supposed to be a protected area.
We have been experiencing problems with our website – the icons for facebook and twitter were magnified to fill a full page. We are extremely grateful to Paul Augustinus for fixing the problem for us. The website is now back to normal, with one modification – the donate button appears on all pages.
Two people who undertook their research in the Triangle: Amanda Subalusky and David Green have successfully defended their PhD Theses – Amanda will continue with her work on the Mara River and David has taken a post doctoral position with Oregon State University to study carnivores in the western United States. Well done to both of them.
Two members of staff went on SMART training from the 4-8th at Keekorok conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Most of our non-security staff went off for Christmas and are due to return on the 3rd January.
Mr Solomon Ojunga lost his father just after Christmas – pole sana.
We had hundreds of elephant in the Triangle – some herds exceeded 150 animals. One tusk-less elephant died next to the hippo pools on the 14th. One other elephant was seen with a wound from a wire snare on the 29th – it was treated the following day.
The number of recent high-level visitors and large conferences has definitely raised Kenya’s international profile in a positive way. The results are being seen in the slight increase of tourists we are witnessing.
Mr Najib Balala was appointed as the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, replacing Ms Phyllis Kandie. This has been seen as a positive step in promoting tourism – Mr Balala was Minister of Tourism in a previous Government and was highly regarded for his work in promoting Kenya as a destination.
We continue to have problems with revenue collection, some of the issues being looked into include:
- The issue of transit tickets for full day game drives;
- The payment, and issuance of Narok tickets, for game drives in the Conservancy;
- Timing of tickets – people residing outside the reserve arriving at Kichwa Tembo airstrip, doing game drives and then leaving to stay in a camp until later in the day. They then pay for a 24 - hour ticket on their return in the afternoon;
- Collusion between drivers and revenue clerks to manipulate the 24 – hour ticket system;
- Malfunctioning of the KAPS system to collect money but not issue tickets;
- The running of a possible Parallel ticketing system at the gates, one in which tickets can be issued, but there is no record in the system.
A total of 23 people were arrested in December, including the two people arrested for poisoning lions at Musiara. Our teams managed to arrest 318 poachers and recover over 4,900 wire snares in 2015 – we smashed the record for the number of arrests; the previous had been 287 in 2014, but had once collected over 5,000 snares, in 2013. Ninety five percent of the arrests were made in the Serengeti, a clear indication of the threat posed on the northern Serengeti and Lemai Wedge. Our figures show that we are becoming more efficient at locating and apprehending poachers, but the threat is not diminishing, if anything it is increasing. At best, we are keeping poaching under control – what would happen if we were not here? It took five years for us to see the first lions and buffalo in the Lemai Wedge and it took nearly seven years for the first camps and lodges to be established in the areas of the northern Serengeti and Lemai that we patrol with our TANAPA counterparts. Would those camps be there if it were not for us? I sincerely doubt it.
Three people were arrested near Lempise in the Lemai Wedge on the 12th – they had killed one hare and a guinea fowl.
Table of arrests made and snares collected since August 2001
One person arrested was on the 30th November near Nyakita Pembe and six snares recovered. Over the next two days a further 10 snares were recovered and one zebra found dead in a snare.
One elephant was reported dead on the 14th near Ol Motonyi – well outside the Reserve. The tusks had been taken. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), assisted by Conservancy rangers, followed up on the matter and managed to arrest four people and recover the tusks, weighing 8.5 kg.
Mr Ninian Lowis reported a speared hippo on the 15th. The rangers followed up and found fresh tracks along the BBC Lugga but were unable to locate the poachers. The following day they returned and found the poachers’ camp – vacated that night. The poachers had succeeded in killing a hippo and had taken the meat – they had obviously seen the rangers and were fortunate in eluding detection.
The rangers were patrolling near Daraja la Mzee in the Lemai Wedge on the 18th when they were asked to assist our Tanzanian counterparts near the Lemai ranger post. The TANAPA rangers reported that people were hunting hippo next to the ranger post and so both our teams joined forces with them and managed to arrest two people who had speared and killed a hippo a few hundred meters upstream from the post. The poachers had anchored the hippo carcass to a fallen tree trunk were then going to use the current to float the hippo downstream, out of the Park to butcher it in their own time.
A routine patrol along the Mara River on the 21st found six wire snares hidden in a tree, there were no other signs of recent poaching.
The Ngiro-are rangers came across poachers at Ol Donyo Olpaek, just on the Kenyan side of the border on the 23rd and managed to arrest one person. They called the Iseiya rangers who then joined them and the combined team managed to arrest two more people. They had just arrived that morning and had not started hunting but were carrying 24 wire snares and were intending to set them for topi and buffalo.
Eight people were arrested on the 29th. The Ngiro-are rangers found poachers in Nyanguki – a large thicket that was a well-known poachers’ base in the 1990s and early 2000s. They called the Iseiya rangers and managed to arrest three people, two escaped. The poachers had nine dogs and were concentrating on Thompson’s gazelle that are abundant along the plains along the Kenya/Tanzania border. The three then said that there was another poachers’ camp near Konyoike and we managed to arrest five more people, three escaped. Both these thickets were favoured bases for poachers but we had not caught anyone in them for several years.
The Iseiya rangers arrested two people for charcoal burning in the Lemai Wedge on the 31st.
Revenue and Accounts
Deloitte nearly completed our annual audit. The accounts were better than last year but still far from perfect – a consequence of losing our accountant, the severe financial pressure we have been under and the lack of a new Management Agreement. Seiya Ltd, the company engaged to manage the Conservancy, used their accountant on a part-time basis to prepare for the audit. More importantly, Seiya has not received a management fee for the whole of 2015 and is now owed in excess of Ksh 10 million (US$ 100,000).
November revenue was up on last year – this is the third month in a row when visitor numbers and revenue have increased over 2014. However, we are a very long way from years of losses turning into a profit, or even breaking-even. To put things in perspective, the revenue collected in November was only 70% of our running costs for a single month and we are going into low season; when we can expect to break even in December and February and not meet our requirements in January, March, April and May. This might have been manageable when we had reserves; they were exhausted over a year ago.
Repairs and maintenance
We completed installing our new signs – we now need to get some more made.
The roads were badly damaged, especially the road to Little Governors and the roads leading to Oloololo Gate. It was too wet to do much and we will have to wait until January before attempting to repair them. However, we have managed to repair one or two sections of the main roads to Purungat and Oloololo Gate over the Christmas holidays.
Report on focus for December
Focus for January 2016
· Hold Board meeting on the 14th;
· Start repair work on the Roads;
· Complete audit;
· Work with KAPS to deal with ticketing issues; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.