We had a few heavy thunderstorms in the first week of July – more than enough to keep the grass green. This was followed by three weeks of hot, dry weather – a virtual drought by Mara standards. There were a few days of rain again at the end of the month.
The Aga Khan paid a quick visit to the Mara on the 19th, he arrived in the morning and left the same afternoon.
Mr Daniel Saitai was elected as Chairman of the County Council of Trans Mara. He replaced Joseph ole Keiuwa. The Chairman and a group of committee chairmen visited the Triangle on the 25th and then some members of the Board met with the Chairman and Clerk again on the 27th to discuss issues affecting both the Council and the Conservancy. The Council has agreed to follow-up on the issue of Little Governor’s and the payment of Park fees to Narok. They have planned a meeting with key office bearers in Narok County Council for early August to try and resolve this issue.
The drought affecting most of Eastern and North-eastern Kenya stretches as far West as the Eastern portion of Narok. There is no grazing left on the communal lands and virtually nothing left on the conservancies surrounding the Reserve. There has been a massive influx of cattle into the Narok portion of the Reserve – they graze at night, after the tourists are back in their camps – and now large numbers are coming across into Trans Mara. This will undoubtedly increase pressure on the Triangle – we are already getting requests to allow night grazing and access to water. The drought in the Horn of Africa is being touted as the worst in 60 years and follows on the heels of another bad drought in 2009. The environment has been so badly degraded by years of overexploitation that it, and the people who rely on it, never get a chance to recover. We can expect floods this year or next – those will come with their own problems and catastrophes – livestock that manage to survive a drought are often stricken down by the onset of the rains (we can expect huge losses), diseases like Rift Valley Fever and malaria then follow. Parts of Kenya will be relying on famine relief for many more months to come.
As expected – we seem to have lost most, if not all, of the cubs from the Oloololo pride. The four new males have displaced the old pride male – he has gone up the escarpment and been killing cattle. The females have been mating with the new males and the cubs have dispersed and disappeared. One of the cubs was definitely killed and three others were seen for a while, before they disappeared. This has been a bad year – we have lost all the cubs from our two main prides. We have some newborn cubs near the road to Ngiro-are, let’s hope that they survive.
The first wildebeest arrived in the Mara at the end of June but did not start moving into the Triangle until the 10th. However, for a few days around the 15th they were streaming into the Triangle and there were some spectacular crossings at Cul-de-Sac, one of the crossing points above Serena. One or two of the crossings were catastrophic – the riverbank on the Triangle side is very rocky in one section and the wildebeest must have tried exiting at that point - Amanda Subalusky counted nearly 5,000 carcasses from this one crossing point. It is heartbreaking, but a reminder that there are some things we can’t control – I am reasonably satisfied that this disaster was not caused by the pressure of vehicles forcing animals to cross in an unsuitable place. However, the desire to watch a crossing and the number of vehicles involved can pose a real threat. We do not want to see another 5,000 dead wildebeest in the Mara River.
So far the migration has been poor – we would normally expect herds spread out as far as the eye can see. Instead, we have a couple of concentrations, the biggest one near Ol Donyo Nasipa on the border, but nothing spectacular. Of course it does not help that 5,000 wildebeest died while crossing the river.
Dr D Mijele darted, and removed a snare from a giraffe on the 22nd. The giraffe was not injured but it was stepping on the snare and it could have snagged.
We received the quarterly report from the Hyena Research Project. The project will be comparing reactions to novel items between the Talek and Conservancy hyenas. A student will also be looking boldness and shyness differences between the two groups.
David Green has returned to do his dissertation on behavior and stress physiology and the possibility of using this information to predict demographic changes in populations of herbivores and other large carnivores. He is also assisting in mapping all the tracks and the distribution of large carnivores and various types of herbivores.
Chris Dutton and Amanda Subalusky are getting some extremely interesting findings from their research on the Mara River. They counted 4,904 wildebeest carcasses in the river, giving us the best possible estimate of the die off. Chris and Amanda placed monitoring instruments above and below the main concentration of carcasses. They expected a decrease in dissolved oxygen at the lower site, but this did not happen. What did happen was that there was a sharp increase in nutrient levels; especially Ammonia. This in turn stimulated primary production levels, as indicated by the huge increase in Chlorophyll levels below the carcasses. They are also looking at the Talek River, the major tributary into the Mara River within the Reserve – dissolved oxygen levels in the Mara remained fairly stable at 95 – 100% but in the Talek dissolved oxygen drops down to 20 – 40% when the flows decline. Is this the result of pollution? If so, what impact does it have on the health of the Mara River?
Parmois Siampei and Alfred Bett start a one-year course at the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka on the 31st July. Siampei is doing a diploma course and Bett will be doing the Certificate course.
Five of our wardens and sergeants will be doing a three-month course for junior commanders at the Kenya Forestry College for Paramilitary Training, starting 7th August. A further six rangers will be undergoing basic recruits training for three months, starting on the same date. This will leave us short staffed for the high season but the courses are most important in developing skills and setting standards.
Ms Francesca Mwagona has resigned as Personal Assistant to the Chief Executive, based in Nairobi. She will be joining the Central Bank in August and we wish her the best of luck in her new career. Frankie has been an invaluable member of staff – extremely efficient and organised. She leaves a big gap that will be hard to fill.
Ms Alice Coulson completed her three months as a volunteer in the Conservancy. Alice was responsible for updating our Facebook site and did an excellent job.
We held a celebration for 1,600 poachers arrested on the 31st. We were delighted to host our Tanzanian counterparts – our collaboration with them is the main reason we have managed to arrest so many people.
Most of the camps and lodges in the Mara are full and will remain so until mid-September. We have seen a remarkable increase in the number of Indian and Chinese visitors, undoubtedly a major factor in the excellent season that most places are experiencing.
A new conservancy is being established on the escarpment. The Oloisukut Conservancy will encompass an area hosting several of the camps and lodges based outside the Mara Triangle; including Mpata Club, Olonana, Mara Siria and Kilima Camps. The camp owners have expressed concern that they will be made to pay double conservation fees – they have all been told that their guests must pay to enter the Reserve. Whether they will have to pay a separate fee to Oloisukut remains to be seen.
We arrested 18 poachers in July, bringing the total to 1,641. We also collected 292 wire snares.
A routine patrol along the escarpment on the 1st came across two people cleaning guns. The two fired one shot at the rangers and then escaped. The patrol found four rounds of AK47 ammunition, oil and a pull-through for the barrels – these were handed over to the police. We do not know who the people were but there was speculation that the two were going to avenge the death of a member of the Kipsigis community who had been murdered a day earlier.
There was a report on the 4th that some people were butchering a zebra on the escarpment. We sent a patrol and managed to arrest one of eight people who had killed two zebra.
The Iseiya team found 12 snares at “watu kumi” in the Lemai Wedge on the 5th, they set up am ambush but no one returned. The following day the Ngiro-are rangers recovered another five snares near Kokamange.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested three people early in the morning of the 9th, in two separate incidents. In the first a group of poachers saw the patrol early and tried to escape. Morani, one of our dogs followed the scent and located the poacher hidden in a pool of water in a swamp. In the second incident two poachers were seen entering the Lemai Wedge near Kokamange, both were arrested with 14 wire snares.
Both our patrol teams went across the Mara River, to where the migration was concentrated in the northern Serengeti, on the 10th. They collected 26 and 48 snares respectively. Both teams reported significant and fresh signs of poaching but did not manage to catch up with the poachers. The following day the Iseiya team returned to the northern Serengeti (between the Namailumbwa hills and the Bologonja River) and recovered 60 more snares – seven wildebeest had been snared and butchered (the Tanzanians arrested nine poachers the following day; they admitted having set the 60 snares).
The Iseiya rangers spent two nights out along the Bologonga River and managed to recover 28 wire snares on the 13th – not before poachers had killed one eland and four wildebeest. The rangers found the poachers’ camp, burnt the meat and set an ambush. They arrested two of the five poachers at 8.00 pm.
The Ngiro-are rangers recovered 22 wire snares in a watercourse below Ol Donyo Nasipa – on the Kenya/Tanzania border, on the 18th. Two wildebeest were rescued and another two were found dead in the snares.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested four poachers on the 20th and again that night, when they went on an overnight patrol into Tanzania. They arrested one person during the day; he had one snare with him. That night they arrested all three people in a group near Mlima Hotel.
The Ngiro-are rangers recovered 39 wire snares near Konyoike, in the Lemai Wedge, on the 25th. The Care for the Wild/Anne Kent Taylor scouts and our rangers from Oloololo recovered 12 snares near the Kijito windmill at Ngiro-are the same day.
Most of the poaching activity has been across the Mara River, downstream from Kokatende. Large groups of poachers, more than 30 in a group, are coming into the Serengeti. They are then using torches on dark nights to confuse a herd of wildebeest – the animals are then hamstrung with machetes and then killed with spears. It is a very crude, but effective, way of killing wildebeest. On the night of the 25th the Iseiya team arrested five people who had come in to hunt this way. A torch was first spotted at around 10.15 pm – a group of rangers were sent to intercept the poachers and ran into another group – arresting the five. It transpired that the torchlight was a signal to the intercepted group – showing them where the others were – so that the second group knew where to drive a herd of wildebeest. The group shining the torch were on a watercourse, used as a barrier for the wildebeest. This would delay the wildebeest, giving both groups – those on the barrier and those driving the animals, time to catch up with the animals and hamstring them.
Early the following morning the Iseiya rangers arrested another three, of eight, poachers near Ngira. That night they were unable to apprehend a group of four poachers as they walked into an ambush at 3.00 am. However, the poachers did drop all their meat – they had killed two wildebeest. An hour later another group of poachers were returning home after an unsuccessful hunt and walked into the same ambush – one person was arrested.
The Ngiro-are rangers recovered another 25 wire snares on the 28th and 30th – both sets in the Lemai Wedge.
Revenue and Accounts
We have changed our financial year to coincide with the Council – it now ends on the 30th June, instead of 31st May.
We have implemented the new Conservation fees, effective 1st July.
We completed the shade at the Hippo Pool and also erected new signs at the site.
We erected new signs at Oloololo gate and also at Purungat.
The Governor’s and SkyShip balloon vehicles caused considerable damage to the main Oloololo road after a rainstorm and we had to resurface a long section.
We completed grading the roads outside the Triangle.
We overhauled the gyro-mower – ready for next season.
We burnt one section as planned – it was difficult, as the grass was a little too green and it started raining as soon as we tried to burn.
We built storage for pipes, timber and iron sheets and have started work on the extension to the workshop.
We purchased a compressor and power washer for the workshops.
We managed to burn part of the proposed area between Egyptian Goose and the border.
Report on focus for July
Focus for August 2011
· Complete workshop;
· Find replacement for F Mwagonah;
· Resurface sections of the roads to Little Governors;
· Order new Land Rover and tractor;
· Send rangers and officers on training course; and
· Complete refurbishment of signs and install new ones.