There was sufficient rain through the first week to maintain grass growth. We then had a slight westerly wind that brought in a very thick smoke haze that sat over the whole area West of the Rift Valley until the 20th. Elsewhere in the Country, parts were experiencing heavy, unseasonal, rain – the result of a cyclone off Madagascar. The last week of February was as it should be, hot sunny days with a strong easterly wind.
A tussle between the different arms of Government dominated the news for most of February – the legislative arm (Parliament and Senate) seem intent on wresting power from the Governors. This is almost certainly linked to control of funds and resources – the Governors are seen as too powerful. The judiciary, and to a lesser extent, the Presidency have also become embroiled – as each arm determines their respective responsibilities and boundaries. The Constitution is very strong on checks and balances and the recent wrangles would be fine, if done for the right reasons – they are not. What is happening is purely an attempt to wrest financial control and funds from the Governors - and presumably provide opportunities for Members of Parliament and the Senate to “eat”: the Kenyan euphemism for corruption. The problem is that these tussles are stifling development and investment, and will have a negative impact on Kenya’s growth projections for 2014. We do not need this in conservation and the tourism industry. It has taken nearly a year for the Counties navigate the minefields on processes, procedures and accounting and start operating – we are only just now beginning to see things happening. No doubt devolution to the Counties has been fraught with difficulties and there may have been cases of misuse of funds and abuse of power. The Auditor General and the Anti-Corruption Commission are dealing with these issues and the President has come out very strongly against corruption.
Mr and Mrs David Watson spent nearly two weeks in the Mara as they worked towards to producing a handbook of the Mara Triangle. The Watsons have completely redrawn their Mara Maps and have incorporated the conservancies in their new Atlas of the Masai Mara.
We hosted a Japanese film crew making a documentary on elephant poaching and the ivory trade for Voice, a Japanese network. Ivory is still sought after in Japan and we hope that this documentary will change people’s perceptions.
Executive Committee members from the County spent the weekend of the 7th at Mara Serena to prepare a contract for revenue collection of the main portion of the Reserve.
We held a Board meeting on the 14th to discuss strategies to combat the significant downturn in tourism. The Board endorsed the measures already taken and agreed to recruit a professional fundraiser. The fundraiser, Ms Angela Yang will start in March and will be paid a commission on any funds raised.
We received a report that a leopard killed one of the three cheetah brothers along the border on the 19th. We searched the whole area but found no sign of the leopard or a dead cheetah. Two days later we found all three cheetah – all very healthy. We also found Mlima’s male cub – he had just left his mother and was constantly calling for her.
Our lions begin to struggle at this time of year – when prey is relatively scarce. The cubs are the first to suffer and some of them are now rather thin and weak. The Oloololo pride has been leaving the Triangle and going up the escarpment – this is an annual event but is always fraught with danger, as they come into contact with livestock and the temptation to kill cattle increases.
We implemented the new cost-cutting measures approved by staff in January and the first groups took their unpaid leave.
We held a Wardens and NCO’s meeting on the 27th to discuss issues and agreed to set up a committee to look at discrepancies in salary scales.
February was reasonably busy – but still well down on previous years. The forecast for March, April and May is looking bleak – very few bookings.
Narok County has placed an advertisement in the local press on the 27th February, instructing all hotels, lodges and camps within the Maasai Mara National Reserve to provide the following within fourteen (14) days:
- Certified copies of original lease, duly registered;
- Notification of approval, and approved development plans;
- Environmental Impact Assessment licence;
- Receipts for payments made on account of the requisite licences and permits; and
- Change of user approvals.
We will wait to see what happens, but it is commonly acknowledged that the majority of camps in the Narok portion of the reserve have no legal right to operate within the National Reserve.
Five poachers were arrested in February; another three people were arrested as suspects in a camp theft on Mara North.
A client tent in Kicheche Camp, on Mara North was robbed of US$ 3,900 as clients were having dinner. We assisted with the dogs and our rangers managed to arrest three people – all employees of the camp.
On the 10th a routine patrol came across fresh tracks in the Lemai Wedge and then found seven wire snares. They left the snares in place, with the intention of returning to ambush the site. When they did return, the snares had been taken.
On the 12th another patrol found a butchered hippo near the Army Drift, just in Kenya.
On the 14th we received a report that one person had been seen near cul-de-sac on the Narok side of the Reserve. Our rangers joined forces with their counterparts from Musiara and arrested him. He was a suspected stock-thief who had been separated from his companions when they had been scattered by elephant.
The Iseiya team arrested three people during a late patrol on the 17th – the third person would not have been caught without the use of Naeku, one of our dogs. The three were part of a group of five people who were fishing and hunting hippo upstream from Saiyari Camp in the northern Serengeti. They had arrived that morning and had caught some fish but had not yet killed a hippo. One wire snare and a hippo spear were recovered.
The Iseiya rangers picked up one ranger from Kokatende on the 18th and patrolled along the Mara River and then along the “Mama Kent” lugga. They saw two people at around 2.00 pm and managed to arrest one – the other escaped. The poachers had just arrived and had not started hunting.
Revenue and Accounts
January revenue was down on January 2013 by 30%. We are anticipating a 20% decline on last year for February and a similar trend for the low season – March to May. There are reasonable bookings reported for the high season, starting mid June 2014, but we still anticipate a difficult year ahead.
Kenya Airport Parking Services (KAPS) were awarded the contract to collect revenue for Narok County and started collecting Park fees for the Narok portion of the Reserve on the 20th February. There was an instant improvement in revenue collection and the discovery of numerous fake tickets being used by tour companies and guides.
We reinforced the culvert across the Sabaringo Lugga with six gabions. This should halt further erosion on the downstream side of the crossing.
We have hired out the grader to grade the Mara North airstrip – another contractor provided the murram.
We sent Lerejin Lekakwar to repair three TANAPA Land Rovers with the new Puma engines – these vehicles require computer diagnostics.
The road team spent the month filling in small potholes on our roads.
We repainted the entrance and office at Oloololo Gate.
We have ordered new signs for some of the roads.
Report on focus for February
Focus for March 2014
· Improve kennels at Iseiya and Purungat;
· Continue with road works;
· Cut the Ngiro-are rifle range and do range practice for some of the rangers;
· Dig soak pit for kennels and do repairs to buildings at Ngiro-are;
· Review salaries & rectify anomalies; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.