There were two days of scattered rain at the beginning of the month, before we had hot, sunny days again. There was some respite with three days of heavy, sustained rain over most of the Mara from the 28th as a result of cyclonic weather near Madagascar. This was undoubtedly the driest period we have had in the Mara since the beginning of this Century. We are much better off in the Triangle than most areas of the Mara ecosystem – especially to the North and East. The Mara River is already exceptionally low and we still have two months before we can expect the long rains – the experts are already predicting depressed rainfall from March to May.
The prolonged drought brought great pressure on us to open up grazing and on the 19th we agreed to open up a strip along the escarpment. This may help a little but the cattle are already too weak to reach the salt-lick and water had become extremely scarce. The locals have not been helped by the fact that they have burnt the whole escarpment between Ngiro-are and the road down from Mara Engai Camp. There is no doubt that cattle owners will incur big losses this year, especially if the rains stop again until March – likely. People manage to keep their animals alive through the drought but the greatest mortalities occur once the rains break – wet conditions and temperature changes are killers for very weak animals, add the inability to cope with the change in diet and the losses will heavy.
We hosted Mr Steve Gulick from Wildlands Security for two days from the 10th beore returning later in the month. He has developed sophisticated systems for monitoring movement along poacher trails – Trailguard - and was interested to see if we had any application for his equipment.
We hosted Dr Rob Olivier and Dr Chege who are doing as assessment of the rhino situation in Kenya as the basis for a new Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Strategic Plan on the 30th. They spent the morning with us and met with our new Rhino Monitoring unit to review our records and monitoring procedures. While we were meeting with them Mr Maurice Nyaligu from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) arrived with a donation of five pairs of binoculars, five GPS units and four cameras for our anti-harassment and rhino units. This is a very welcome contribution.
Our senior staff met with Angama management to discuss a perceived lack of communication between our ranger post on the escarpment and Angama security staff. They resolved their issues and look forward to a better relationship between the two groups.
We conducted our annual staff transfers on the 15th, keeping the new rangers in their stations, as they had only been there for a few months.
Ms Lucy Brewster of Summit Training conducted a two-day training session on communication and leadership for senior Mara Conservancy and Seiya staff at the Mara River Lodge. Eight Conservancy and nine Seiya Staff attended the course.
Dr Njoroge from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) removed a snare from the front leg of an elephant on the 5th and then treated two young male lions that had possibly been involved in a fight the following morning. One of the lions had a wound on the scrotum and Dr Njoroge had to remove one testicle.
Zebra, and a few wildebeest, started crossing back into the Triangle from Musiara and Mara North around the 18th – this was a boon for both crocodiles and lions as they ambushed animals crossing the river. The rain at the end of the month will probably send them back across the river in the coming days.
A young bull elephant was found dead near Serena with a spear wound on the 24th. It had first been seen near Musiara and had been treated by Dr D Mijele on the 19th – it had probably been speared on the escarpment.
Three African wild dog were seen in the Triangle for a few days before disappearing again – one of the dogs had a satellite collar.
Visitor numbers continue to improve – with an increase in overseas visitors on the corresponding month in the previous year for every month since September 2015. Figure 1 below shows the trends in non-resident visitors (Adults and Children) since 2011 – a 50% increase on 2015 but we have not hit 2012 levels and are someway off the peak of 57,937 in 2011. We had a huge increase in Kenyan school children and students visiting the Triangle; last year we had 13,733 visit – up from 2,206 in 2011 and a low of 695 in 2013.
Figure 1: Non-resident visitors to the Triangle 2011 to 2016.
We received a quarterly report on the Hyena Project a month late. There was little new to report.
We received the Mara Lion Project Annual Report. Their estimate of around 420 lions older than one year old has already been reported. They estimated 68 ± 8.8 lions in the Triangle, fairly consistent with our estimates and many more than the 30-40 we estimated 15 years ago. The report highlighted other interesting issues:
· The very low density of lions along the Talek/Aitong road and in the Reserve near Talek (Dave Green and the Hyena Researchers had also noted the decline in lions around Talek); and
· The majority of immature males seem to disappear from the area. This has led the project to collaring five sub-adult males in order to work out their dispersal. This is yielding very interesting information on the movement of these young animals. One young, collared male, came into the Triangle and has moved up and down the Mara River before periodically returning to Ol Kinyei;
· The project’s community outreach programme is changing perceptions and will hopefully encourage people to build more predator-proof bomas rather than kill the predators. Compensation and the equal share of benefits from conservation were seen as two important steps in protecting predators (certainly the Conservancy compensation scheme seems to work well).
A total of 33 people were arrested for poaching during January, six of them in the Triangle. One hundred and forty five snares were collected during the month.
The Iseiya team arrested five people along the Bologonja River in the Northern Serengeti on the 4th – they had arrived the previous night and had already killed four warthog. The first two people were arrested at 6.30 pm, the rangers then remained in their ambush and arrested the other three at 8.00 pm. The Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person the same night; he was carrying five snares.
A routine patrol found a poached warthog stashed in a tree near Nyakita Pembe on the 5th. The rangers left it in the tree and returned later that evening to ambush the site – the meat had been taken. The following day they patrolled the Bologonja River and found where people had poisoned a pool –killing all the fish in the pool. There was an empty acaricide container and some herbs that had been used to poison the pool.
The rangers went on patrol at midnight on the 7th and set up ambushes along the escarpment in Tanzania with their TANAPA counterparts. There was no movement so, as it got light, they moved positions towards Lugga ya Ngiri and arrested one person from a group of three. On the 8th we received information that a group of poachers had either gone to Miungu or into the Triangle – that day a patrol found one giraffe that had been killed in a snare and butchered and, next to it a dead buffalo in a snare. They set an ambush but no one came in. The following day, the 9th, they patrolled around the Salt-lick and managed to arrest a whole gang of six people who had been there for two nights and had killed three warthog. This gang had camped in a small thicket very close to the main road to Ngiro-are, presumably thinking that no one would look there.
The Iseiya rangers crossed the river and patrolled along the Bologonja River in the Northern Serengeti on the 10th. At 1.00 pm they saw a group of people butchering a warthog – all three were arrested. They had arrived the previous night and had hidden their belongings before hunting – the belongings were seven kilometres away; an indication of the distances these people cover when hunting, even when camped in a protected area.
On the 13th The Ngiro-are rangers joined up with their counterparts from Kinyangaga and helped then deal with illegal grazing. That night they set up an ambush at Oleare Nyioke in the Lemai Wedge and arrested three, of eight, people who had killed a wildebeest. Five wire snares were recovered.
On the 16th the Iseiya team were patrolling along the Mara River and saw some tracks – they followed the tracks and arrested both people near Sampura in the Lemai. The two had intended to camp in the Wedge and had five snares with them. On the same day the Ngiro-are rangers recovered 15 snares between Limana and Nyakita Pembe.
On the 17th the TANAPA rangers exchanged fire with some elephant poachers near Ngira in the Northern Serengeti. One elephant was killed and one wounded – the poachers escaped but the ivory was recovered.
The rangers set up an ambush near Sampura on the night of the 19th but saw torch activity several kilometres away, near Konyoike – on the Kenya/Tanzania border. They managed to move undetected, reposition the ambush and managed to arrest two people – they had killed a Thompson’s gazelle.
One person was arrested on the 20th near Kokamange – he was hunting alone and had five wire snares. The following day the Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person in the Lemai Wedge during the day and another person near Lempise that night – they also recovered eight snares. The Iseiya team crossed the river and arrested four, of five, people near Ngira in the Northern Serengeti.
The rangers recovered eleven snares on the 22nd near Nyakita Pembe, one zebra had been butchered. The following day the Anne Kent-Taylor/Oloololo rangers patrolled around Maji ya Bett and recovered 24 snares – three zebra had been butchered. Seventeen snares were recovered on the 25th – 1 zebra had been butchered. That night the Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush between Ngiro-are and Kinyangaga – a favourite poacher route – and managed to arrest three people by using the Flir camera; they were carrying 16 snares and would have set them in the swamp or around Maji ya Bett. Over the next two days a further 34 snares were collected in the same general vicinity.
The Iseiya rangers set an ambush in the Lemai Wedge on the 30th and then received information of a large quantity of meat hidden near Ngiro-are at around 9.00 pm. They went to the site and found that the meat had been taken. The following day another stash from the same animal, a hippo, was found near our rifle range – an ambush was laid and one person arrested as he came in to collect.
Revenue and Accounts
Our management accounts for the first six months of the financial year are summarised in the Table below. Staff costs account for 63% of our total expenditure and Administration costs come next at 18%. The other major cost is in vehicle and machine costs at nearly 11%. Overall, we managed to do better than budget and were able to partly replenish our reserves – largely due to better than expected visitor numbers, and hence Park fees and, importantly, with a donation from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). However, we can expect an operating deficit in four of the next six months as we go into the low and off seasons. It should be noted that we continue to have problems in collecting balloon cess from both Skyship and Governors’ balloons and this will have to be addressed in the coming months if we are to break even by the end of the year.
Table 2: Summary on income & expenditure for first six months of 2016/17 financial year in Ksh
Repairs and maintenance
We made a new trailer axle and had the old one repaired.
We set gabions at the main crossing, in a part where hippo had badly worn the riverbank. This will hopefully stop any further erosion.
We repaired seals on Case JCB and then found that the brake system had been severely worn. We were unable to find replacement parts and so had engineers fill and resurface the worn parts.
We purchased supplies for the ranger station at Kilo 2 and new accommodation for Dr Asuka Takita. This accommodation should be completed by mid February.
We set up the second Flir camera on our new Land Rover pick up and moved the original camera to KBS 645T , as we intend to sell our oldest Land Rover pick-up. We are now able to deploy two cameras - one at Iseiya and one at Ngiro-are.
Report on focus for January 2017
Focus for February 2017
· Complete temporary house;
· Sell one Land Rover;
· Collect repaired Suzuki Maruti from Nairobi;
· Complete roofs at Kilo 2;
· Fix JCB and work on the roads;
· Set new gabions along eroded sections of the river near the main crossing;
· Hold another training session for senior staff; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.