Two weeks of scattered showers and thunderstorms kept the Triangle green for most of December. One or two of the storms were extremely heavy – in excess of 65 mm (2.5”). As usual, these heavy storms can do considerable damageand this year was no exception, with sections of the roads near Oloololo Gate almost being washed away.
There is absolutely no doubt now about Kenya being off the tourist radar. Tourism in Kenya is about to face a very serious crisis. The official figures indicate that tourist visitors declined by 7% in 2013 – this on the back of a significant drop in 2012. Visitors from Europe declined by 15.3% and visitors to the coast were fewer by 11% (Daily Nation: 20 January 2014, p 29). These figures in themselves are alarming. What they don’t reflect is that the rate of decline is increasing. December 2013 was a disaster and the projections for early 2014 are for more of the same. Normally there is a short peak in tourist numbers over the Christmas period – this did not happen this year at all. In fact December was one of the worst months we have had in years and the situation was only salvaged slightly by a significant increase in the number of Kenyans visiting the Mara. However, local tourism centres around school and public holidays and has not been sustained into January.
We can easily expect a further 10 - 15% decline in tourism in 2014 unless the Government takes action. How does this fit with Government statements about increasing tourists from 1.8 million to 3 million by 2017 (The Standard: 13 January 2014, p14)? It will take a lot more than wishful thinking to turn around the impending tourism disaster facing the country. The fundamentals: alienating the West, insecurity, corruption, poor infrastructure, high taxation (16% VAT has now been imposed on Park Tickets with effect from January 2014), and a poor tourism product – be it at the coast, or in the Parks and Reserves - all need to be addressed, and addressed quickly.
We held a senior staff meeting on the 20th to determine measures that should be taken to cope with the drastic drop in revenue.
We have at least two prides with young – less than 3 month old - cubs. One pride has 12 cubs and the other has five.
We have pockets with large wildlife concentrations; the best being near the Tanzanian border. The few resident wildebeest all gave birth around the full moon – a month earlier than expected.
We conducted our annual staff transfers on the 15/16th and unfortunately had to lay off 14 casuals.
We held a half-day workshop for senior staff on the 20th. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the financial situation and look for ways of increasing income and reducing expenditure. Everyone agreed that we were facing a very serious financial situation – if we retained the status quo, and increased basic salaries by 60% (now implemented by all Counties), the Conservancy would run out of money in March 2014 and have a shortfall of Ksh 21 million by the end of June. In order to try and alleviate the situation the staff agreed to the following measures:
- Senior management to take a salary cut, up to 50%;
- Conservancy to implement the 60% salary increase, but
- All staff will take two week’s unpaid leave between now and June;
- There will be no bonuses;
- All allowances will be drastically reduced;
- The grader will be grounded and only do minimal work;
- One vehicle from Ngiro-are will be grounded;
- Patrols will concentrate on the Triangle.
The Mara Triangle received a certificate of excellence – 5 “stars” for the second year running from Tripadvisor with 228 of 235 reviews either rating it as excellent or very good (205 excellent & 23 very good). (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g294209-d671383-Reviews-Mara_Triangle-Maasai_Mara_National_Reserve_Rift_Valley_Province.html).
Visitor numbers are extremely low, with lodges running at 30% occupancy – or lower. For the few people brave enough to visit Kenya and the Mara the game viewing has been wonderful, and people have the Reserve all to themselves!
We had a group from the Field Museum of Natural History and National Museums of Kenya, headed by Dr Bruce Patterson and Paul Webala, studying bats. They found three species that had not been recorded in the Triangle before.
Eleven people were arrested in January and 65 snares were recovered. A number of hippo were killed on the Tanzanian stretch of the Mara River and there was an increase in night hunting for Thompson’s gazelle. This is normal for this time of year and we can expect to see incursions into the Triangle as poachers target warthog.
The Ngiro-are rangers recovered eight wire snares on the 1st at Nyakunguri, a thicket in the Triangle, close to the Tanzanian border. The snares were all set high, for giraffe.
The Iseiya rangers arrested two people at 1.00 am on the night of the 3rd near Konyoike on the Kenya/Tanzania border. The two were part of a larger group who came in at midnight to hunt gazelles with dogs and torches.
The Ngiro-are rangers collected 15 snares near Maji ya Bett on the 5th and then arrested four people at 7.30 pm on the Masanga route into the Lemai Wedge.
On the 6th our rangers found a poached hippo downstream from Kokatende – that whole stretch of the river seems completely devoid of hippo – the result of sustained hunting by the wa Kuria. The following day the rangers arrested one person opposite the Ngira Lugga – had supplies for three days and 22 hooks, all baited with small pieces of fish and set up ready for fishing. That evening the Iseiya rangers arrested two people as they entered the Lemai Wedge to hunt Thompson’s gazelle.
Our rangers recovered six snares along the border on the 18th. A day later the Oloololo rangers left at 3.00 am; to follow up on a report of poachers on the Oloisukut Conservancy. Unfortunately the poachers escaped, but the rangers recovered 36 wire snares, four arrows, a spear and four homemade panniers – used to carry out meat.
Our rangers set an ambush near Watu Kumi, in the Lemai Wedge on the night of the 23rd – a large number of poachers came into the area but all managed to escape. Two people were arrested the following night by the Oloololo/Anne Kent-Taylor scouts near Ngos-Nanyuki with zebra meat. They were taken to Lolgorien Police Station and prosecuted.
A routine patrol along the Mara River in Tanzania on the 25th came across three fresh hippo carcasses downstream from Kokatende; one of them had been partly butchered. The rangers recovered six spears, torches and knives and it would appear that the poachers had been alarmed by a Tanzanian patrol the previous night.
Revenue and Accounts
December revenue dropped a further 12% on November and a huge 34% on December 2012. Any hopes that we might see a reversal in the downward trend and that tourism might pick up seem unfounded. The two graphs below show the financial situation after the staff meeting on the 20th. The decisions made at the meeting certainly improved a dire situation, but we will still end up in May with no funds, and end the year with a cash defecit of Ksh 4 million. This is probably manageable, with other cost-cutting measures but it will leave us with no reserves and probably another poor tourist year.
Projected gap between income and expenditute between January and June 2014 and cash balances for the same period (Ksh)
We renovated housing and buildings at Oloololo Gate;
We patched damaged sections of the roads between Mara Serena and Oloololo Gate;
We used this opportunity to fix minor problems on our equipment and vehicles.
Report on focus for January
Focus for February 2014
· Continue with minor road repairs;
· Fit six gabions at culvert across the Sabaringo lugga;
· Continue with minor repairs to buildings; and
· Hold Board meeting on 14th.