We started the month with some very heavy thunderstorms and all night rain. This soaked the Triangle, just when things were beginning to dry out. This rain continued for the next two weeks, making it all but impossible to work on the roads. Our major problem continues to be damage caused by supply vehicles, the exceptionally large trucks used in supplying gas, fuel and food cause very deep ruts that then fill with water which then don’t dry out. This was compounded by the fact that the trucks became bogged down and then had to be towed out by tractors, deepening the ruts and damaging the roads even further.
The Chief Executive attended, and gave a short presentation to, the Cheetah and Wild Dog strategic planning meeting, held in Nairobi on the 7th February. Experts on both species had been meeting for several days and are in the process of developing regional and country 10 year strategic plans to chart management and conservation measures for these two important and endangered species.
The Chief Executive met with Ms Laura Alessandrini of the Africa Conservation Fund (ACF) and WildlifeDirect. She confirmed that ACF had received US$ 9,480 towards the purchase of a second Cheetah 1 monitoring vehicle and we arranged to have the funds transferred to the Mara Conservancy account in early March; when she returns from the Congo. We also discussed possible funding initiatives and we will produce a list of possible items for funding, we also discussed setting up a “Blog” and are proceeding on this.
Mr Paul Augustinus, a very well known wildlife artist will be holding an exhibition in the Tryon Gallery in London in two years time. Half of the 40 paintings will be of the Mara Triangle and he has offered us a small percentage (the amount is not yet fixed but up to 5%) of all sales and the opportunity to promote the Triangle at the exhibition. He has just held an exhibition in the Tryon Gallery and sold all 19 paintings at up to US$ 25,000 per painting.
A meeting held in Nairobi on the 23rd that included members of the tourist industry, the County Councils of Trans Mara and Narok and the Ministers of Local Government and Tourism strongly criticized Narok County Council for their management of the National Reserve and instructed them to increase the proportion of revenue used to manage the Reserve from 5% to 25%. The meeting commended the County Council of Trans Mara and the Conservancy for their management and appointed a Task force headed by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism to report back with their recommendations for improved management of the Reserve within two weeks.
We hosted Dr Richard Leakey and a film crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) who are doing a documentary of conservation in Kenya from the 25th. The Mara Conservancy is being held up as a model for protected area management.
Honey, the cheetah with three cubs was killed in a botched darting exercise by a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) veterinarian on the 17th. One on Honey’s cubs was reported injured on the 13th and KWS was called down. The veterinarian arrived down on the 17th and went straight to Kichwa Tembo camp and took a driver from there. At no time did he or his team attempt to make contact with management. They darted Honey, who had a superficial wound on her leg, the dart did not go into muscle but instead hit her in the stomach, near her kidneys. She went down and was left out, unattended, in the afternoon sun for 15 minutes while the vet worked on the dart gun and prepared another dart for the injured cub; at this point the officer in Charge of Cheetah 1 saw people out of their vehicles from Oloololo Gate and came down to investigate. The cub was darted and given cursory treatment. The veterinarian then left the cheetah and returned towards Nairobi. One hour later Honey was dead. We now have three, one year-old cubs to look after until they are big enough to fend for themselves. Dr Gakuya, the Chief Veterinary Officer at KWS visited with an officer from the Investigations Department of KWS to follow up on the matter at the end of the month.
The cheetah with five cubs near Mara Bridge was seen most days; she was attracting large numbers of tourists from the Narok side of the river.
We still have a few wildebeest and zebra along the Mara River, the wildebeest are calving but most calves are being killed by hyena.
Lion have been moving around a great deal and we have seen a number of lions that are not normally resident in the Triangle. A number of resident lion in the western portion of the reserve are very thin and one yearling cub was found abandoned near the Serena airstrip, it then disappeared.
Three hippo were found dead in the Mara River during the month, we do not know the cause of death.
We held a party on the 3rd to celebrate the arrest of 700 poachers.
We instituted a new computerised payroll package called Payplus. This will make it much easier to meet Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) standards. The new package is recognised by KRA and will automatically compute correct taxation, generate all payroll summaries and the requisite reports. The Finance and Administration officer and Chief Executive have received training on the package and it will be administered by the Finance and Administration officer.
We carried out our normal transfers on the 15th – the Warden Operations, Mr Edward Nkoitoi has now been transferred back to Serena from Ngiro-are.
Mr Charles Gitau spent three days doing administrative work in the Mara from the 18th.
One staff member was dismissed for theft, he was over-charging clients for maps and caps at Mara Bridge. We have also received a number of fake Kenya Shilling notes at the gates, it appears that some drivers are passing them on as genuine Ksh 1,000 notes.
The rains continue to hamper our ability to repair damaged sections of the road between Mara Serena and Oloololo Gate and between Oloololo and Kichwa Tembo. The damaged causeway over the Sabaringo Lugga meant that all traffic from Mpata, Olonana and Kichwa had to pass in front of Kichwa, ploughing up acres of grassland and severely damaging the environment. It also restricted game viewing between Oloololo and Serena – focusing game viewing between Kichwa and Little Governors and around Serena and Mara Bridge. It meant that many areas were able to recover from over use by tourist vehicles but also meant that three relatively small areas were over-utilized and quite badly degraded as a result.
Mara Serena and Little Governors reported near full capacity for February but we can expect a significant drop in the number of tourists for the next three months.
23 wa Kuria poachers were arrested during the month, bringing the total to 774. Most of the poachers were operating in the Lemai Wedge, just across the border and near an area called Masanja. This area normally has large concentrations of wildlife in the rainy season and currently has very large herds of Thompson’s gazelle, impala, topi, eland and zebra. A lot of the poaching is being done at night, with dogs, and mainly concentrates on Thompson’s gazelle.
Eight wa Kuria poachers were arrested on the 30th January by a combined Kokatende and Ngiro-are operation on both sides of the Mara River. The poachers were first seen by the Ngiro-are team, who then alerted their counterparts at Kokatende. Five arrests were made by the Tanzanians and three by our team.
The Serena team arrested one poacher in the Lemai Wedge, towards Daraja ya Mzee, on the evening of the 13th. He was on his way to join another four poachers who had part of a group of five who had left before him - eight wire snares were recovered from him. The same night the Serena team arrested another three, of seven, poachers who had stopped to cook a meal in the same area. They were on their way to Masanja and had planned to stay for four nights, 78 wire snares were recovered.
Four wa Kuria poachers were arrested by the Serena team on the 16th, the day after transfers. The poachers were operating in the Masanja area and were hunting Thompson’s gazelle with dogs. They had killed eight gazelle the previous night.
The Serena team followed a group of poachers hunting in the Masanja area between 1.00 am and 5.00 am on the night of the 18th. Sadly the poachers managed to escape, but without their food and meat – they had killed 20 Thompson’s gazelle in that time.
The Serena team arrested four wa Kuria poachers on the night of the 23rd. The poachers were operating in large gangs near Masanja and were mainly targeting Thompson’s gazelle. At least 36 gazelle were killed in a one hour killing spree by the poachers.
The Serena team arrested three, of five, wa Kuria poachers in the Triangle, about three kilometres downstream from Mara Serena on the 27th near the Ol Keri campsite. The poachers had arrived at 6.00 that morning and had been unable to cross the river. They had killed one warthog on their way and had butchered the animal. They had five spears and were targeting warthog and hippo.
Revenue and Accounts
January revenue was higher than expected, but this followed a disappointing December. Net income for the eight months from June 1st has risen to Ksh 59 million (US$ 840,000), up by 11% on our anticipated revenue for the period. Recurrent expenditure for the period was Ksh 42 million (US$ 600,000), up by 4% on our budget. The Kenya Shilling continues to be exceptionally strong and has been trading at 68-69 to the US$, significantly stronger than anticipated. This has led to some exchange losses (Ksh 2.8 million) that were unanticipated.
The Conservancy is in a fairly strong financial position, with cash in the bank of about Ksh 12 million (US$ 170,000). However, we are going into the low season, where expenditure exceeds revenue and we anticipate ending the financial year with approximately US$ 100,000 in the bank. This relatively strong financial position will enable us to bring forward the purchase of another grader to replace our existing machine. The cost of a newer machine is estimated at US$ 200,000 and we can expect to get about US$ 90,000 for our existing grader.
Cheetah 1 came back from Nairobi after repairs, we still need a new steering box and have one on order. A new vehicle “Cheetah 2” is being prepared in Nairobi and should be ready for collection in early March.
The causeway over the Sabaringo lugga was washed away, forcing vehicles to pass in front of Kichwa Tembo camp. These vehicles destroyed acres of vegetation in front of the camp before an alternative route was found. We are joining forces with the Ministry of Public Works, Kichwa Tembo, Olonana and Mpata Club to fix this causeway in early March, at an estimated cost of Ksh 1.1 million (US$ 16,000)
We placed an order for our own 8,000 litre fuel tank and pump. We have been experiencing trouble in accessing fuel through Roadstar and their prices are 20% up on pump prices in Narok. With our own fuel supply we will not only be more self-reliant but will be able to make long-term savings. We calculated that we will pay for the cost of our own tank and pump from savings within six months.
We ordered a solar system for Oloololo gate and the Ngiro-are office from Hensolex, after reviewing quotations from Hensolex and Chloride Exide. Hensolex installed the system on the 27th at Oloololo Gate and will complete the Ngiro-are office in early March.
We purchased a 3 KVA UPS for the Mara office as Serena now cut off power over lunch, in the afternoon and again from midnight. The UPS enables us to keep communication open when the power is off.
The grader managed to repair the road between Oloololo gate and Mara Bridge in the nine days of reasonable weather. We had to stop work on the roads again when the rains returned towards the end of the month.
We cut about 100 kms of grass tracks between Mara Serena and the bridge, before the rains again stopped work.
Work on the kitchen at Mara Bridge was completed and the mason then worked on road signs.
Report on focus for February
Focus for March
· Hold Board meeting and AGM on 16th March;
· Collect “Cheetah II’;
· Install new fuel tank and pump;
· Start work on sergeant’s house at Serena;
· Repair drift over Sabaringo Lugga;
· Improve Chief Executives camp; and
· Work on roads, as and when, possible.