We had heavy thunderstorms for the first week of February, we then had two weeks of beautiful weather before the rains returned for a few days towards the end of the month. The Mara Triangle looks absolutely stunning and the area burnt in January has attracted large numbers of animals, including two cheetah families, several lions and hundreds of plains game.
The Chief Executive met with Mr Hal Wackman, a founder Director of WildlifeDirect on the 17th to discuss the Conservancy’s relationship with WildlifeDirect.
We had a visit by the President of Libya’s son and his entourage at the beginning of the month. They stayed at Mara Serena for nearly a week.
A road was being constructed into the Mara Triangle from the top of the escarpment; the road follows a cattle route to the salt-lick. The Council wrote to the developers, M/s Mara Engai Wilderness Lodge, and instructed them to cease construction of a camp on the escarpment, and to stop the road until the Council sees all the necessary approvals. The Council gave approval for the construction to continue on the 10th February. This will open up a new route into the Reserve and has significant cost implications for the Conservancy, in terms of personnel, construction and security in that part of the Reserve.
There was a meeting in the KATO Board room on the 20th to discuss progress on the ten-year management plan for the Mara. The meeting discussed ways of moving the plan forward and it is hoped that a meeting can be held with Narok County Council in early March. Another meeting will be held with the County Council of Trans Mara once it has been properly constituted.
It appears that there may be a way out of the impasse that has paralyzed the County Council of Trans Mara for over a year. We now hope that a Chairman to the Council will be elected in March and that this will allow the Council to begin operating again.
A delegation from the Ministry of Immigration visited the Mara in mid-February to consider opening the Sand River Gate as a border post between Kenya and Tanzania. This would greatly improve access into Tanzania from the Mara. At present visitors going between the Mara and Serengeti have to go through Isbanyia or Namanga, a full days drive, at the very least.
A four-day old eland calf was brought into Oloololo Gate on the 1st, it had been found abandoned in a rainstorm by one of the villages on the escarpment. This now joins “Bahati” the eland calf that we have reared since May 2008.
The very weak cheetah female that we had been watching was seen again on the 1st, she seemed much stronger and there is a good chance that she will now survive. We now have three groups of cheetah on the burn, this is very welcome, cheetah had been very hard to see in the Triangle since June 2008.
A 10 -12 month old elephant calf was brought to Oloololo on the 14th by rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The calf had been found abandoned near Kilgoris. The calf was flown to Daphne Sheldrick’s orphanage the same evening, it died a few days later. Another elephant calf was brought in by KWS on the 26th and was again flown to Nairobi, we hope that this one will survive. One immature elephant with a broken leg was euthanized on the 27th, there was no chance of recovery for this animal.
We held a meeting with members of the community committee that acts as a liaison between the Conservancy and community on the 4th at the livestock guardian demonstration homestead – Iseiya the Anatolian sheep-dog puppy is thriving and beginning to take his responsibilities as a protector of his flock seriously. A large part of the meeting revolved around compensation arrears for livestock killed in 2006/7 and not compensated for. We received a list of compensation claims and will review them. We also discussed our proposals for future compensation and they include registration to the scheme and conditions of minimum acceptable housing and herding that must be adhered to for compensation to be considered. We also discussed our proposals for checking and policing the scheme and our intention to use the committee and young men from the committee to evaluate claims – they would be given forms to fill in and cameras to use for documenting evidence.
Mr Sean Dyer will be working on the Hyena Research team and will replace the two researchers who have been here since July 2008.
A large team of researchers spent a day on the Mara River, near Mara Bridge, looking at water flows, water quality, inveterate populations in the water and fish species. The team was made up of Kenyan and Tanzanian based scientists. Water flows are extremely low again but of more concern is the quality of water. Salinity has increased and oxygen levels in the water seem abnormally low; this may be the cause of a number of dead fish being seen in the river in recent weeks.
We conducted our routine staff transfers on the 1st. We will keep our staff in a post for one year at a time, up from the traditional six months.
We have instituted a new appraisal system that makes each sector warden much more accountable for their respective areas.
We held our passing-out parade for the eight Council rangers on the 5th, the event went well and was also attended by wardens from Narok and Trans Mara County Councils, and the Officer in Charge of Lolgorien Police Station.
A team of rangers went to Nanyuki on the 6th, to attend a training course and exercises with the British Army. There were with the army for two weeks and were trained in ambushes, observation posts, communication and gate security before going on exercises with them. The training was extremely useful and a good motivator for our staff, we hope that they will be able to put some of the things that they learnt into practice.
We had a total of 45,908 bed nights in the Mara Triangle during 2008. This was a drop of 27% on the three-year average of 62,683 bed nights. The most affected months were between January and April, when we witnessed a 50% decline in occupancy rates. Mara Serena managed to market to the resident community in Kenya and were able to maintain a relatively high occupancy rate; this was reflected on the average value of tickets sold to Serena clients at US$ 29.11 per client for the year, compared to US$ 35.98 per client for the other lodges.
All the projections are for a 40% decline in tourist numbers through 2009, this may well continue into 2010.
The table below gives a summary of poachers caught in 2008 and compares this with the average number of arrests made and snares recovered since 2001. Only two poachers were arrested during the month, bringing the total to 1,128.
There has been a major reduction in poaching within our normal areas of operation, along the Tanzanian border and along the escarpment. However, there still seems to be extensive poaching on the southern side of the Mara River, downstream from Kokatende. Our Iseiya team joined forces with their counterparts from Kokatende on several occasions during the month.
On the 20th the patrol saw poachers beyond Saiyari Camp as they were setting up an ambush at 4.00 pm, unfortunately the poachers escaped but left behind six dead warthog. The team ambushed the general area that night, but no one returned.
We conducted a joint patrol with Kokatende again on the 24th near Machechwe. At least three groups of poachers were seen operating in the general area but they were moving very fast and the rangers were unable to catch up with them at night. The rangers then decided to set up an ambush on a route back to the villages and arrested two, of six, poachers as they returned home at 4.00 am. The poachers had killed two warthog, one impala and one Thompson’s gazelle.
Revenue and Accounts
We had expected that the proposed increase in Park fees would have been formalised in February, we now expect the increase to take effect in Mid-March. This will increase revenue by approximately 50% and enable the Conservancy to meet its financial obligations.
The approach to the lower Mara Bridge has been repaired; the approaches were washed away two years ago, after exceptionally heavy rain flooded the Mara River. The bridge should be open to traffic within the first week of March.
We graded the road to Oloololo Gate and repaired sections of the main road that had been damaged in recent rains. We continued to surface some of the wet sections along the river road to Oloololo Gate.
We built a pit latrine at Oloololo Gate. This will be used by large school groups and in instances when there is no water at Oloololo.
We repaired broken windows and fittings at Oloololo Gate.
We installed a notice board at Oloololo Gate.
Report on focus for February
Focus for March
· Complete renovations at Oloololo Gate;
· Open the Bridge over the Mara River;
· Start work on dog kennels for the two bloodhounds due in late May;
· Continue with road-works on river road;
· Touch-up damaged sections of the roads to Ngiro-are; and
· Push for approval of ten-year management plan.