The rains returned on the 10th and continued for two weeks before tailing off. We then had days of extremely heavy haze, with visibility down to a few kilometres, presumably from fires in Tanzania.
We had another incident on the 13th, in which a tour driver from Right Choice Tours and Safaris colluded with the Revenue Supervisor at Oloololo Gate to defraud the Conservancy. They agreed to pay for Resident Adult tickets for two nights, when in fact the clients were Non-Resident and staying at Serena for three nights. They then agreed to pocket the difference, amounting to over US$ 700. Since then KAPS have moved to make some radical changes to their system, including placing passport/ID Card and vehicle number plate scanners that automatically reads the information onto the ticket, improving the ticket and hopefully closing any loopholes in the ticketing system. They have also replaced some clerks, the supervisors and brought in a higher-level manager to oversee the Triangle. We hope that the new measures will streamline revenue collection at the gates. Mr S Kahiga, Managing Director of KAPS, visited the Triangle for three days – he saw at least one of the problems that we have been complaining about first hand. He was ticketed for two people in a car, when there were four people in the vehicle. Since then we have had people entering the Park without paying – their float had expired (a common scam with our resident camps) - and would supposedly pay later; people being collected from the Kichwa airstrip and then going on game drives without valid tickets – these are from supposedly reputable camps.
The Chief Executive met with Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Angela and Robert Carr-Hartley from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the 26th. They have agreed to support the Mara Conservancy with an annual donation of US$ 150,000, to be paid in quarterly tranches starting 1st February 2016. This follows on the donation of an anti-poaching vehicle a few months ago. These extremely kind gestures go a long way to easing our financial burden, but more importantly provide a strong endorsement of the importance of what we do and all that we have achieved. It has always been a disappointment that people and organisations that benefit from our work, and the sacrifices we make, have not seen fit to provide more than their statutory commitments. Even then, people are constantly trying to rip us off – just look at the paragraph above to see scams we have been dealing with in the recent past.
The Chief Executive gave an interview to China Central Television (CCTV) Africa on the 29th – they are doing a programme on the lions poisoned in December that should be released by mid-February.
Drs Andrew Kemp and Christopher Vane joined Chris Dutton for a few days in the Mara to collect faecal samples of as many of the species they could in the Mara. They are using very sophisticated equipment to isolate faecal sterols in each species and will use them to try and determine changes in human and wildlife populations in the Mara River system over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This will be done by digging for core samples into wetlands that have had silt deposited over time, and analysing the different strata for these biomarkers.
Dr Joyce Poole has produced a report in conjunction with the Mara Elephant Project (MEP), Save the Elephants (STE) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) entitled “Mara ecosystem connectivity – Information on elephant population status and movements for spatial planning and conservation in Narok County”. It is hoped that this document an be used by the decision makers in Narok to address some of the issues elephant movement and distribution and Human/Wildlife conflict issues relating to elephant in their dispersal areas.
Dr D Mijele from KWS took biopsy samples from 15 elephant in the Triangle – animals were darted with barbless darts that then fell out with the samples.
The County held their recruitment for ranger trainees on the 15th at the Uaso Ngiro airstrip outside Narok. From all accounts the recruitment was conducted in a very open, transparent, and professional manner, three of our staff were shortlisted but failed to meet the standard. We hope that we will receive some of the recruits once they have completed their training at the KWS training school in Manyani.
We conducted our Annual Staff transfers on the 16th and combined it with promoting some people to fill gaps.
I would like to commend our staff members who stand firm against bribes and intimidation – it is such officers who have helped unearth some of the ticketing problems. Congratulations to Assistant Warden Alfred Bett for standing firm in the incident on the 13th – recorded above.
Two members of staff were summarily dismissed for misuse of vehicles. In the first case a driver took a vehicle without authority and caused extensive damage. In the second case a driver was over-speeding and rolled a Suzuki, again causing extensive damage and injuring one person.
We had good concentrations of elephant in the Triangle, at times there were herds of over 120 in the flooded areas towards Little Governors’.
Lion and leopard sightings were good throughout the month but the grass has grown so tall throughout most of the Triangle that animals are concentrating on the few areas that are well-drained and have short grass. Three large males killed a hippo on the 31st and will probably spend a few days feeding off it – if the hyena don’t chase them off. There were dozens around the kill on first morning.
Several lions have moved up the escarpment and have been causing problems killing livestock and, on a couple of occasions, threatening people. This is a very difficult and potentially dangerous situation – both for the lions and people. We have been paying compensation for cattle killed but believe that it is time that those camps based outside the Reserve took some initiative and responsibility – it may be in the form of clubbing together to conserve the area, or contributing to the security of both people and the lions.
We received 32,763 Non-resident Adult (NRA) visitors in 2015, an 8% drop on 2014, but a massive 43.5% (from 57,937 to 32,763) drop since 2011 – see Figure below. Surprisingly, Non-Resident children visitors – in orange - have remained fairly constant, actually increasing slightly from 3,319 in 2011 to 4,554 in 2015. This may indicate that people with families were not that concerned about travelling but older couples were more reluctant to travel. We have noted an improvement in NRA visitors since September and we actually had more visitors in the last four months of 2015 than we had in the corresponding period in 2014. Some of this may be attributed to the opening of Angama, the new 60-bed camp on old Ol Kurruk site, but it also reflects a slight upturn in tourist numbers as tour agents start marketing Kenya again.
It has been interesting to note that there has been no increase in the number of Resident and Citizen visitors over the past three years, but a huge increase in the number of Citizen Students visiting the Triangle – from 2,200 in 2011 to 8,037 in 2015. Hopefully many of these students will retain a greater awareness of wildlife and the importance of conservation.
Figure 1: Non-resident visitors to the Mara Triangle since 2011
The President announced on the 11th January that the Government would remove Value Added Tax (VAT) on Park tickets, thus enabling the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and possibly the Counties to reduce Park Fees by 16%. It is expected that the new rule on VAT will take effect in the June budget.
Congratulations to the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) for a major coup in facilitating the arrest of four wanted bandits and the recovery of two AK47 rifles and 31 rounds of ammunition on the 5th. This group was wanted for at least three murders and armed robbery. They terrorised Lolgorien in November, actually confining the local Police to their Police Station, as they went about looting shops and killing at least one person. The operation to arrest these people was conducted between MEP and KWS officers. In an addendum: one person was shot and killed by armed bandits on the night of the 30th at Masarura – everything pointed to the same gang – released on bond.
Our rangers arrested 29 poachers in January and recovered 2 wire snares. As expected, the poachers are now concentrating on hippo and Thompson’s gazelle – we did not catch anyone for hunting warthog, but undoubtedly some poachers will be concentrating on them.
There has been an increase in charcoal burning in the Lemai Wedge and on the 10th and 11th four people were arrested well inside the Serengeti, burning charcoal. On the 11th our rangers saw one person fishing along the Mara River by Mlima Hotel, on the opposite side of the River.
On the 15th one person was arrested for spearing a hippo near the Lemai Ranger Post – two other people, who were on the opposite side of the river, escaped. The hippo was wounded with two spears, one was recovered, but the hippo was being taken downstream by the current and would almost certainly be killed once it left the Serengeti, if it had already not died not from its wounds.
Two people were arrested on the 19th and 20th in the Lemai Wedge. In the first instance the Iseiya rangers saw two people in the distance and followed them for some time before making the arrest – one person managed to escape. The following day the Ngiro-are rangers requested assistance from the Iseiya rangers to deal with three poachers on the Masanga poachers’ route. They managed to arrest one person with two snares.
A balloon pilot from Governors’ Balloons saw people in the riverine forest downstream from Little Governors’; in an area we call Kisumu Ndogo and alerted our rangers on Saturday the 23rd. Our teams joined forces and managed to arrest ten people. They had been there for three nights, had killed a hippo and were drying the meat. They knew that they had been seen and were in the process of moving their camp and hiding when apprehended. These people pleaded guilty in Kilgoris and were jailed for six years each.
The Ngiro-are team arrested two, of five, people who were hunting in an area called Lugga ya Ngiri in the Lemai Wedge on the 27th.
A TANAPA ranger joined our combined team on the 28th evening and they set an ambush near Masanja in the Lemai Wedge. Several groups of poachers started hunting Thompson’s gazelle soon after dark and the rangers managed to arrest four people from one group and then another two from a separate group at around 11.15 pm. They found where four gazelle had been slaughtered.
Revenue and Accounts
We have agreed to engage Mr Charles Gitau on a consultancy basis to complete the Annual Audit and then provide oversight over the next year. We expect Mr Gitau to start on the 1st February and, once he knows the scope of work, we will finalise a contract.
Repairs and maintenance
We had problems with our back-hoe loader hydraulics and hired one from Seiya Ltd for three weeks to keep work going.
We transformed the murram pit below Angama into a small waterhole and managed to resurface some of the most damaged roads – especially those leading to Little Governors’ and along the river.
We did a major service on the grader and replaced all the pins and bushes on the front axle and replaced a shaft and clutch plates on the circle drive.
We graded the worst damaged roads, concentrating on the roads to Little Governors and the main road to Purungat. We were unable to resurface the road between the Kichwa Airstrip and Little Governors and have asked that it not be used when wet.
We re-tiled the Iseiya kitchen, a great improvement.
Report on focus for January
Focus for February 2016
· Continue working on the ticketing system;
· Work on the road to Ngiro-are;
· Hold meeting between Camps and community;
· Complete Annual Audit;
· Work on the roads; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.