For the most part January was dry, although we did have a few thunderstorms throughout the month. Most days were hot and sunny followed by one or two days of rain; especially in the earlier part of the month.
Governors’ Camp and Mara West have come out in support of an attempt, by a group called The Ilkarekeshe Group Trust, to excise 25,958 hectares of the Triangle – exactly half the Triangle. Governors’ are on record (a letter dated 21 December 2011) to the District Adjudication Officer, copied to the Chief Lands Registrar and Director of Surveys, indicating that they have been in contact with Ilkarekeshe and that they have no objection to the adjudication of the land to Ilkarekeshe. On the 12th there was a public meeting at Mara West – at which the community were told that the Minister of Lands would give Ilkarekeshe their Title Deed on the 17th and that Mr Andrew Aho, proprietor of Mara West, would be managing the area on their behalf under the auspices of a new company called The African Conservation Tourism Group Ltd (ACT). The presentation on the 17th was postponed to the 24th and then again to the 3rd February.
Ilkarekeshe leaders have apparently been going around with a “photocopy” of the Title Deed and soliciting at least Ksh 5,000,000 from the Community to get the original (searches by the Council and their lawyers have not found any record of a Title Deed in the Lands Offices in Kilgoris, or in Ministry of Lands in Nairobi). It seems beyond belief that a group can unilaterally excise half of the Mara Triangle – without the knowledge or approval of the Council and without first de-gazetting the land as a Protected Area. The process of de-gazetting a Protected Area, especially a portion of the Masai Mara National Reserve, would take years and would probably lead to an international outcry. It would appear that, in their anxiety to join forces with a group opposed to the Council and Conservancy, Governors’ Camp and Mara West have publically supported an initiative that has little, or no chance of succeeding. The Council has banned Mr Aho from entering the Triangle until further notice.
The Council’s attempts to have the Reserve boundary surveyed have been delayed by the above – vested interests are doing everything they can to obstruct and delay the survey - but we hope that the survey will commence in early February. This will hopefully put to rest any attempts to excise any portion of the Reserve.
Mara Serena have started major renovations to their public areas. This work will take a year and will be phased in such a manner as to cause minimal disruption to the guests. The renovations will greatly enhance Mara Serena and we look forward to seeing the finished product.
We are most concerned about the increase in elephant poaching within the Mara ecosystem – 21 in January alone. 13 of these elephant were killed in Trans Mara: in the Nyakweri forest and along the Mogor River, about 40 kilometres West of the Triangle. The others were scattered through the Siana, Ol Kinyei, Maji Moto and Lemek areas of Narok. The elephant in Trans Mara were all shot with automatic weapons – cartridge cases from G3 and AK47 were collected at the scenes. Some of the elephant in Narok were killed with spears, a less efficient method, often resulting in days, or hours, of agony for the elephant. This level of poaching is beginning to rival the levels seen in the late 1970s and 1980s. There is no doubt that there is a strong market again for ivory, but from a conservationist’s perspective, a large part of the problem includes weak laws and the poor prosecution of suspects. All too often suspects are arrested and then released with minimal, or no, sentences.
A number of lionesses have had cubs and began bringing them out in January – we hope that there will be no pride take-overs and that the lionesses will manage to rear the cubs this time.
A cheetah had cubs near the 4 kilometre sign – they were first seen on the 1st when they had just been born. The cheetah was seen hunting on the Topi plains most days and has not yet started moving with her cubs.
A new rhino calf was spotted for the first time this month.
We conducted our annual staff transfers on the 21st.
The general consensus within the tourism industry is that tourism numbers will decline by 20-30% on 2011.
Ten people were arrested for poaching in January – all of them in Tanzania. A further three people were arrested after a failed robbery attempt on Mara Serena. This brings the total arrests to 1,770.
The Ngiro-are rangers went out on a late patrol on the 4th and immediately arrested two people in the Lemai Wedge – at 4.00 pm. The two were hunting warthog with dogs but had not succeeded by the time of their arrest.
Five people were arrested early on the 3rd – for continuing to construct an illegal road into the Triangle. They were taken to Kilgoris.
Twenty-five cattle were stolen from the Masai on the night of the 6th – unfortunately it was not reported until 6.30 the following morning. The Ngiro-are rangers were quick to find the tracks near their station and followed. The came across the cattle rustlers as they were taking the cattle up the escarpment – our rangers were fired upon and returned fire (56 rounds of ammunition were expended by the rangers). Some of the rustlers managed to escape with most of the cattle – only two were recovered at the time. We involved the Anti Stock Theft units on both sides of the border and the remaining cattle were returned on the 17th. Swift action by the rangers enabled us to recover the first two cattle but more importantly gave us leads that were then used by the Tanzanians to recover the remaining cattle.
Our road team saw the tracks of three people on the morning of the 13th near Sankuria. A patrol searched the area but was unable to find anyone. That night there was an attempted robbery at Mara Serena – six people, two of them armed with AK47 rifles, attempted to rob the safe in the manager’s office. A receptionist and accountant working late were still in the office and raised the alarm; the gang took off without stealing anything. The rangers immediately followed and made contact with the gang at Mugoro. There was a brief exchange of fire before the robbers escaped. Our dogs (Morani and Naeku) then followed the tracks to the top of the escarpment. There were two further exchanges of fire that night. Early, on the morning of the 14th one person was apprehended. After first refusing to admit that he had been involved, he divulged a great deal of information when he was caught out in a lie. He had been in the gang, the tracks we had seen were theirs, they had arrived on a hill next to Serena on the night of the 12th and had spent the day before the attack on this hill. He then described how they had approached Serena and where they had hidden until the last tourist had gone to bed. Most importantly, he gave us the names of all the people involved in the raid – two of them were ex Serena staff who had been dismissed around two years previously. The two: Nyagah – who had been the Clinical Officer at Serena and Kosiala – a room steward, were arrested in the next 24 hours and corroborated the story. The dogs played a vital part in our success in this case. After some painstaking work with the community one of the two guns, with 29 rounds of ammunition, was surrendered on the morning of the 15th.
I would like to recognise the contribution of some of our officers in the apprehensions, and in the recovery of the firearm. J Maseto recognised our first suspect and that gave us the breakthrough we needed, Sgt Kerua undertook the interrogation that gave us the leads. Ranger Kosencha recognised Kosiala and apprehended him. Warden A Saris (a Seiya Warden based in Naboisho) knew most of the suspects and was invaluable in providing information and negotiating the release of the firearm – Warden F Peenko worked with Saris to recover the gun.
Our rangers came across six dead hippo in the Mara River on the 22nd and 23rd. All the hippo were a few kilometres downstream from Purungat Bridge and some had been butchered – poachers were seen on two occasions but managed to escape, as they were on the far side of the river when spotted. We were unable to ascertain whether they had all been poached, or whether they had died naturally – although the rangers did see poachers trying to spear a hippo on one occasion – the hippo escaped.
The Iseiya team crossed the river and ambushed the Machechwe route on the evening of the 25th. They arrested two people at 8.00 pm and then a few minutes later they arrested another two at the same site. The Ngiro-are team also arrested three people the same night, at around 1.00 am near Watu Kumi in the Lemai Wedge.
Our rangers found one dead elephant near Miungu, in the Lemai Wedge on the 27th – the elephant had been dead for about five days and the tusks had been taken. The Reserve seems to be secure for the time being, but it is only a matter of time before we see poaching closer to home.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person in the Lemai Wedge on the 30th.
Revenue and Accounts
Below is a summary of our cash flow over the past six months in Kenya Shillings.
Park entrance fees were slightly higher than budget – mainly as a result of exchange rate gains on the US$. KAPS’ commissions were higher than budgeted for. This was the result of a budgeting error – we only calculated commission on the Conservancy share and not all revenue. We managed to keep expenditure below budget, by about 11%. This was despite inflation rising to around 20% by the end of the year.
The overall picture for the first six months of the year leaves us in a relatively healthy position to face the coming six months – traditionally our expenditure exceeds income for the months of January, March, April and May – this will probably be compounded by lower than anticipated tourist figures for the coming year. However, we believe that we will still end the year with a reasonable surplus.
We managed to grade the major roads in the dry periods between rainstorms. There was some damage to the newly graded roads.
We have dug a soak pit for wastewater from our staff compound at Iseiya and will complete it in February.
We managed to resurface most of the lower road between Iseiya and Oloololo Gate and repair patches that had been badly damaged on the main roads. However, the trailer pulled the hitch of the tractor – damaging the housing. The tractor will be returned to Nairobi.
We repaired the drift next to Oloololo Gate.
Report on focus for January
Focus for February 2012
· Complete grading roads to Ngiro-are;
· Repair damaged sections of road to Ngiro-are;
· Install uni-hut near Little Governors;
· Complete soak pit at Iseiya;
· Repair tractor; and
· Survey the Reserve boundary.