By the middle of the month the Mara River was lower than it has ever been – each year for the past several years we have said the same. This year it is definitely the case, not only is there virtually no flow, the water is a dark green and heavily polluted with organic matter, largely hippo faeces. Some intermittent rain from the 18thimproved the situation very slightly.
We held a Board meeting on the 8th. The Board approved looking for new office space in the Lavington area and we looked at offices belonging to Mr Aasif Karim, excellent space but on the expensive side. The offices would only be affordable if we get the contract for the main Reserve. The Board has asked management to provide a proposal on leasing out three seasonal campsites for 2020. We are considering the three sites in the western corner of the Triangle and they would only be available between mid-June to the beginning of November.
Angama have very kindly offered to improve and manage our facilities at the hippo pool and we will work with them on a design that fits in with the environment. Angama, through their Trust, are great supporters and they already fund our rhino monitoring team and pay compensation for livestock killed by predators.
A team from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) visited Oloololo Gate on the 22nd, to see our housing, solar system and general care of the establishment.
Mr Eric Becker visited us from the 24thto 26thand managed to repair one of our Flircameras, he took the other one for repair. He has said that Flirand WWF will try and establish a maintenance system in Kenya, so that we are not so reliant on his expertise.
The Chief Executive met with Governor Tunai on the 9thand again on the 23rd, to discuss progress on management of the Main Reserve. We agreed that there was a need to capitalise on a short window of opportunity to start during the low season. In the meantime the County have offered a short-term consultancy for the Chief Executive to provide management advice on management.
We asked Dr Amanda Subalusky and Chris Dutton to give us an assessment of the low river flows and possible consequences. The very kindly wrote a brief report and the main points of interest included:
· River flows peak in December and again in April/May, corresponding with the main rainfall seasons;
· Lowest flows are in February, before the onset of the long rains;
· Mean flows at Mara Bridge (Purungat) are 12.5 m3/second, dropping to below 1 m3/second in February;
· Chris and Amanda have not conducted their research long enough to comment on the current flows within a historical context. However, other researchers have compiled data going back to the 60s and 70s;
· A paper by Gereta et al(2009) reported on data collected from the Mara River in Tanzania and estimated that flows in drought periods had declined by 68% since 1972 (I would pose that there has been a further, and significant decline, since 2009);
· Chris and Amanda reported that low flows can have a very pronounced ecological effect and that hippo can contribute 8,500 kg (dry mass) of organic matter to the river daily;
· The latest hippo count (2019) saw 2,757 hippo between the upper Mara Bridge and Purungat – up from 1,924 counted in the Reserve by Kanga et alin 2006;
· During normal flows this organic matter is distributed throughout the river, but during low flows this matter is deposited on the river bottom, where it slowly decomposes;
· This process of decomposition results in declines in dissolved oxygen and increases in compounds like ammonium and hydrogen sulfide – both which can be lethal to aquatic insects and fish;
· The Mara River had less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved Oxygen from 27thJanuary 2019 until the rains in mid-February;
· Any flushing out of the hippo pools from heavy rain or a flash flood could result in a massive fish die-off, as has happened in the recent past;
· Insect taxa that are indicative of a healthy river system (mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies) are replaced by black flies;
· It is difficult to determine the decline in insect taxa on riparian spiders, lizards birds and bats - it may be fairly significant;
· We are yet to determine the effects of poor water quality on the human and wildlife populations, as outbreaks of water-borne diseases become more common under these conditions;
· Hydrological modeling show that if we were to experience a severe drought such as in 1949-52 and again in 1972-3 that the river would dry up for up to two months; this could potentially lead to an 80% decline in the wildebeest population (I would question the 80% decline in the wildebeest population, they don’t rely on the river until after June each year and flows have always been fairly strong at that time. However, it may have a major impact on other wildlife species such as elephant);
· There are still important questions to be answered and we hope that dedicated researchers like Chris and Amanda will be around to work on them.
It should be noted that this year, and the past few years for that matter, have not been drought years and yet the river flows continue to decline in the January to March period.
A lion cub died on the 10th, it was seen alone two days before, fed one day but died the next. There seems to be at least three prides of lions with young cubs at the moment – not a great time for them, as food is scarce.
A young elephant had a snare removed from its trunk on 12th, the snare had virtually cut through the trunk.
A giraffe ran into a wire fence near Kawai, on the escarpment, and broke a front leg. There was no chance of recovery and the animal was euthanised on the 21st. Fencing throughout the Mara region is becoming a major problem for wildlife, it has cut off most of the migration routes and dispersal areas for the Loita migration – not to mention the very large number of animals – giraffe, zebra and wildebeest that are killed in these fences.
The two cheetah cubs are almost ready for release and we are looking for collars for them so that we can track them in the first few months.
Eighteen poachers were arrested and 93 wire snares were recovered in February. As usual at this time of year the poachers are focusing on hippo – the Nigro-are rangers estimated that six had been killed along the river in Tanzania during the month – warthog and impala or Thompson’s gazelle.
The Nigro-are rangers arrested four people during a late patrol along the escarpment in the Lemai Wedge. Two people escaped, they were all on their way to hunt when caught. Two wire snares were recovered, as were five machetes. On the same day, the Oloololo team joined up with the Anne Kent-Taylor team and Oloisukut rangers and recovered 80 snares opposite Cheetah Camp on Mara North. Unfortunately the Oloisukut rangers had chased the poachers earlier. However, the 80 snares were in camp, together with three spears and locally fabricated back-packs. There was an impala and a warthog carcass in camp.
One of our rangers Kironkai was injured when chasing poachers on the night of the 5th. He tripped in front of one of our vehicles and was hit by the vehicle. The poacher was arrested and the ranger taken to Kisii for medical attention. His collar bone was broken, his hip was dislocated and he had cuts on his face. He was released from hospital after a few days.
A joint patrol between Nigro-are and TANAPA set an ambush near the river at Serengeti Ndogo on the 10thand managed to arrest six men who were carrying hippo meat. They were part of a large gang of people, estimated at 15 men and some women who had butchered a hippo. The rangers also caught four of the women carrying meat. We heard that another hippo that had been killed near the Island close to the VIP camp sold for Tsh 1,050,000 (approximately Ksh 45,000 at Tsh 23.19:1Ksh). No wonder there are virtually no hippo downstream from Kogatende.
One person was arrested during an ambush near Tabora B in the Northern Serengeti on the night of the 11th, he and two others were on their way to camp near Nzonzo and were carrying enough food for several days. The following night one more person was arrested at 11.00 pm near Sampura in the Lemai Wedge, he was part of a group who were on their way to hunt gazelle or impala with dogs and torches. There was torch activity near Nyanguki and the rangers moved position and stayed until morning but the poachers had obviously seen the activity when the one person was arrested and left.
Four snares were recovered below Kirindon on the 19thand one butchered hippo carcass was found near the old Saiyari camp in the northern Serengeti on the 23rd.
Warden W Nailenya had four cattle stolen from his home on the 21st. A combined team from the paramilitary police, our rangers and the community followed the tracks and managed to recover the cattle from the home of a notorious thief near Soit. The thief escaped but the team found four other cattle that had been stolen from a member of the community in January, more cattle that may have been stolen and a solar panel that had been stolen last year.
Seven wire snares were recovered near Lempise by the Nigro-are rangers on the 28th. That night our rangers joined forces with their TANAPA counterparts and managed to arrest six people from two different groups hunting near Serengeti Ndogo. They arrested two, of three people, in the first instance soon after 8.00 pm and then later managed to arrest four people from a group of six. The poachers were hunting gazelle with dogs and torches.
Revenue and Accounts
We continue to collect more than last year, January was up by 35% on the same month last year. All the indications are for an excellent year, February alternated between being full and quite empty and we were certainly helped by the Chinese New Year, and a number of tourists from Europe and the United States.
Repairs and maintenance
The grader transmission is still in Nairobi, we hope that it will be ready in early March.
Our tractor hitch required repair and we used the opportunity to cut some of the grass tracks.
We have ordered shelving for the new store and it should be ready for collection in early March.
We continued with road repairs and did a lot of work on the main road to Oloololo gate and re-surfaced the road to the Serena water pump.
The new Suzuki Marutis were delivered at the end of the month and will be collected in early March.
Report on focus for February
Focus for March 2019
· Bat proof the KAPS office at Purungat;
· Install new shelving in the store;
· Start on a new house at Kilo 2;
· Complete Administrator’s house;
· Possibly start on new staff housing at Iseiya;
· Work with Angama on facilities at the hippo pool;
· Sell Suzukis; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.