The complete lack of foreign visitors is starting to have a major impact beyond the tourism industry. The knock-on effect on airlines, motor companies, manufactures and food producers is beginning to be felt. More importantly two of Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earners: Tourism and Tea are going through a simultaneous downturn, and this is impacting the value of the Kenya Shilling. The decline in World oil prices may mitigate the loss of foreign exchange to some extent but all the indications are that Kenya’s foreign exchange reserves are declining and that there is increased demand for imports – retaining a high demand for the US$. Fuel products are heavily taxed and the dramatic decline in World oil prices is bound to have an impact in taxation revenue; some of the savings in oil prices will be passed on to the consumer but we can expect increased taxes on fuel.
Conservation is bound to be hard hit by the lack of tourists – this will only get worse. Whether it is the Kenya Wildlife Service and their National Parks, or Counties with National Reserves, a lack of revenue leads to compromises in security and conservation. Surely, Kenya’s Parks and Reserves are an international, and not just a local asset. If we want to protect the very foundation of our tourism industry, not to mention our amazing biodiversity, we will have to get international support.
We had several days of heavy and sustained rain in the first ten days of January. Parts of the Triangle are looking green, with good grass growth. However, it drying off very quickly. The rain managed to salvage a dire situation outside the Reserve, where there was insufficient grass to maintain livestock and cattle were dying. However, livestock pressure will not allow for sufficient grass regeneration unless there is good rain in the March to May, long rains.
We held our Board meeting on the 16th. Discussions centred around the financial situation. During the meeting we received a draft letter from Narok County, pledging some support to us in the coming months.
A group opposing the Governor held demonstrations on the 26th, in Narok, despite explicit orders by Government to the stop the demonstrations. Two people were killed in the ensuing fracas and one senior Policeman was injured. The people orchestrating the whole event were arrested and are being prosecuted. The arrest led to a day of mayhem in Narok – with roads being blockaded and unruly youths rampaging through town. Narok came to a virtual standstill until the leaders were released on a cash bond of Ksh 500,000 each and the crowds disbursed.
The Chief Executive was asked to attend a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the 28th. He attended the hearing, together with KAPS’ management – to answer questions relating to a Petition filed by a Mr Karia – accusing the Governor of mismanagement and KAPS and the Mara Conservancy of failure to remit funds to the County as required. We were asked to provide a number of supporting documents and this was done by the 30th.
Dr Elena Chelysheva presented us with her 2014 Annual Report for the Mara Triangle. Key findings included:
- 67 adult cheetah were identified in the Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies between 2012 and December 2014;
- Of those, 21 (9 males, 7 females and 5 adolescents) were seen in the Triangle at some stage;
- All nine males have been spotted in the main Reserve and Conservancies as well;
- Whereas, five of the females have only been spotted in the Triangle – there are no records for their possible movements into Tanzania;
- Of 25 cubs known to have been born in the Triangle: 76% (19) died in the first three months, four were still with their mother and only two had survived to adulthood.
- Elena also produced a more comprehensive report on the whole Mara, a most interesting document.
- It is interesting that various studies between 1980 (Burney) and 2014 (Chelysheva) the cheetah population in the Mara ecosystem has remained fairly constant at around 60;
- Cub mortality within the first three months seems fairly consistent at between 71-76%;
- Other predators, in particular lions, account for most of the known cheetah mortality, although Sarcoptic mange, a debilitating and contagious condition caused by mites, can cause severe problems for cheetah.
- Up to 63 vehicles were reported at a cheetah sighting near Keekorok Lodge. The effect of vehicles on cheetah behaviour and survival needs further study.
A paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Wildlife Management in November 2014 by Green et al. Temporal Dynamics of the Response by African Mammals to Prescribed Fire. Discusses the effect of fire on herbivore and carnivore concentrations in the Mara Triangle. The study found that zebra, warthog, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle and topi occurred in higher densities in burned than unburned areas. These effects were surprisingly short-lived, lasting for up to 120 days for Thompson’s gazelle. Topi occurred in significantly higher numbers 181 – 240 days after a burn. Both small and large carnivores are observed after burns but it was difficult to determine whether this was from increased visibility or the increased abundance of prey. An interesting study, cautioning managers that the effects of burning on stimulating plant growth and improving wildlife visibility may not last for more than a few months in places like the Mara.
Warden Francis Peenko transferred to the County – we have lost most of our senior staff and a number of Rangers in the past few months.
We conducted our normal annual transfers on the 15th.
The Administrator, Mr E Molai, spent time in Narok discussing a number of staffing issues, including the inclusion of County staff seconded to the Mara Conservancy being paid directly by the County. This would enable them to access loans from the Kenya Commercial Bank that are currently not available through the Conservancy.
Naishuro, our oldest female rhino, gave birth around the 1st. The calf has been well hidden and only seen on a few occasions..
A hyena was found dead on the 1st with a wire snare in its mouth.
An elephant calf was found alone on the 4th. A young female joined it – obviously not its mother – and we monitored it for 24 hours before calling the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to rescue it. We presume that the mother had died and that the young female was a sibling. It was flown out on the afternoon of the 5th.
The third, and only surviving, leopard cub reported last month was killed by lions on the 6th. A large pride that has been based around the Kichwa airstrip attacked a bull buffalo but did not manage to kill it. In the course of the battle with the buffalo the lions came across the leopard and her cub.
Dr Limo treated an elephant with a severely injured leg on the 20th and another one with an old snare wound on the 28th. The injury to the second elephant was very severe and we hope that it will survive.
Tourism continues to be in the doldrums – there are very few foreign visitors and this does not look set to improve before June. Tour operators are reporting reasonable bookings from June but we can expect a very short high season and no significant improvement on the past year.
We held a lodge managers’ meeting on the 31st to discuss issues relating to the management of the Mara Triangle. It was agreed that more should be done to make visitors to the Triangle aware of the environment they are visiting. It was also agreed that the Conservancy, Camps and Lodges consider forming an association to market the Triangle as a unique entity and that the operators would start collecting a data base of visitors who had shown an interest in knowing more about the Mara – specifically the Mara Triangle.
Ten people were arrested for poaching in January, all of them in the Lemai Wedge. As expected, poaching has switched from snaring to hunting hippo, warthog and Thompson’s gazelle – often at night, very late evening, or early morning.
The Iseiya team arrested one person on the 2nd, he was carrying a spear and fishing tackle, and seemed somewhat disorientated. He may have been part of a group that had been ambushed by TANAPA rangers the previous day.
The Iseiya team went on an ambush on the 12th and arrested two people who were part of a large gang hunting Thompson’s gazelle with dogs and torches. The Ngiro-are team went on a late patrol the following evening and managed to arrest three more people as they entered the Lemai Wedge near Lempise, two escaped.
One person was arrested by the Iseiya rangers at “Lugga ya Ngiri”, in the Lemai Wedge during a late patrol on the 25th; two people escaped. The group were on their way to hunt warthog when apprehended.
The Iseiya team arrested three people with Thompson’s gazelle meat during an early morning patrol on the 28th. These people had been hunting at night with dogs and were on their way home.
Revenue and Accounts
December revenue was down by 9% on the previous year; partly rescued by the large number of local tourists over the holidays. All our projections are that we will run out of funds in March and that we will require support – either in the form of donations, or from the County.
The resignation, to join Narok County, of our Finance and Administration manager at the beginning of the financial year could not have come at a worse time. We have found it very difficult to find a competent replacement and have resorted to using the Seiya accountant. The accounts are finally ready for audit and this should start in February
We completed the classroom floor at Partikilat and now need to install glass panes in the windows.
We completed resurfacing sections of the road to Ngiro-are and then started work on the road between Oloololo Gate and Little Governors’ Camp. We also repaired a section of road leading to the Kichwa Tembo airstrip and loaned our Case back-hoe/loader to SkyShip for a day so that they could work on their road.
We repaired one damaged culvert on one of the roads to the Mara River.
We looked at possibly working on the road to Karen Blixen Camp in Mara North and have given them a quotation.
We worked on minor repairs to buildings at Iseiya and Ngiro-are.
Report on focus for January
Focus for February 2015
· Formulate a roster for unpaid leave;
· Cut all unnecessary costs;
· Finalise negotiations for new management contract;
· Start Annual audit;
· Consider burning one block; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.