The month was characterised by rain almost every day, culminating in some very widespread and heavy storms in the last week. This rain saturated the ground and a number of small springs appeared along the edges of rising ground. Areas that had been burnt in July/August are almost indistinguishable from areas that have not been burnt and December burns have a thick growth on new grass – attracting considerable numbers of wildlife.
The new burns have greatly improved visitor viewing, with the area between Serena and Mara Bridge particularly popular with tour guides. Two prides of lions are frequently seen in this area, one with six very young cubs. Two of the males from one pride had leg injuries and were treated by Dr Kashmiri – who flew up from Mombasa to treat them. Both injuries were old but one of the lions also had a large haematoma, fluid filled abscess, on his back. This was lanced and both males were injected with antibiotic. Both males have been seen subsequently, one is thin but has definitely fed on one or two occasions since, probably from kills made by the pride females.
A meeting was held with County Council Treasurer and Committee Chairmen on the 18th January. This was a successful meeting chaired by Mr W Roberts. The major item on the agenda was the presentation to the Mara Conservancy of a draft Memorandum of Understanding between the County Council and the Conservancy. The MoU is aimed at clearing up issues that may not have been adequately addressed in the Management Agreement. The MoU will be studied and feed-back given at a follow-up meeting on the 18th February.
There was an informal request from the newly formed Siana Trust for the Conservancy to provide management support to them. We are awaiting a formal request before taking the matter any further.
The Conservancy held a meeting with Lodge and Camp managers, on the agenda was fees for resident vehicles. It was agreed that camps and lodges would pay Ksh 25,000 per annum for resident tourist vehicles. There was a discussion on charges for administrative vehicles and balloon vehicles that have never been charged a fee. The Conservancy has proposed that all resident vehicles, or those that use the Reserve on a regular basis, be charged an annual fee. The lodge managers have agreed to take the matter up with their owners.
Lodge occupancy in January continued to be well below expectations, with lodge occupancy maintained at 30-50% for most of the month. Fortunately projections for February look better, with all lodges reporting increased bookings.
The eviction of camp managers from Olonana and Mpata Club compounded an already poor month in those two lodges – it is hoped that this will not reoccur.
An attempt has been made to close off some of the tracks bypassing the Oloololo gate, especially between the gate and the Kichwa Tembo airstrip. . It has been almost impossible to monitor movement in and out of the Reserve when people by-pass the gate and there were several cases of vehicles being stuck in the mud for hours before they were discovered. Signs saying that the track is closed have been placed on almost all the regularly used tracks.
A number of potential camp-sites have been identified and Mr Peter Behr is arranging for some tour operators to visit the sites. Before anything further can be done we will need to study existing agreements and activate the planning and development committee. The Mara Conservancy have nominated Mr W Roberts (Chairman), Dr C Thouless (Director) and MR B Heath (Chief Executive) as their members of this committee.
There were no reported incursions by poachers into the Reserve during the month, and very few reports on the Tanzanian side of the border. There were two possible reasons for this: firstly, the continual rain made it both very uncomfortable and the drying of meat impossible; secondly, the Tanzanians had mounted a concerted effort to apprehend poachers in the villages surrounding the Serengeti. It was reported that 4 firearms were recovered in the sweeps.
On one occasion the Tanzanians informed us of a group entering the reserve but no signs of any such incursion were found.
There was a regular transfer of security staff to new posts in the Reserve during the month, the last such transfer was in June 2001.
There has been no communication from the Commandant of the GSU with regard to refresher training of security staff. This will be followed-up in February.
One cattle owner was arrested for grazing cattle in the Reserve, he was taken to his local Chief and a warning issued to all cattle owners along the western boundary to cease incursions into the Reserve. This warning was reiterated when livestock were allowed in to drink at Ol Are, about 5,000 cattle came in on one day and most of the herders and owners were addressed.
David Nkedianye managed to conduct several meetings with community members from all three Group Ranches. We should have a list of nominees for the Advisory Committee by March.
Peter Behr spent one week, looking for camp-sites and working with tour driver’s from the lodges. He will return again in February.
Road-works were curtailed by the rain, it is unfortunate that we were unable to finalise work on the Oloololo – Serena road before the rains, and this will require several days work before it is in the same condition it was in before Christmas. However, the two roads from Serena – Mara Bridge have held up remarkably well. A little work has been done on the road to Ngiro-are and this will continue in February. All the culverts on the main road between Oloololo gate and Mara Bridge have been checked and cleaned..
Three new roof tanks were installed in houses at Serena to replace severely corroded tanks. New, windows, ceilings and doors have been fitted at Oloololo and the shingle roof over the gate has been painted with wood preservative.
The sand filter for the well at Ngiro-are has become blocked, this will be replaced in early February. The carpenter will also move to Ngiro-are to complete repairs to the ceilings,doors and windows. This will then complete the rehabilitation of all buildings at Serena, Oloololo and Ngiro-are, with the exception of the electricity lines at Serena.
Revenue and Accounts
We expect to receive payment for balloon flights in January, it is estimated that balloon revenue for September-December will be approximately Ksh 640,000 to be divided between the Conservancy and Council.