There were only three local and isolated thunderstorms in the Triangle during July – one of the driest months in the past 15 years.
There was a meeting in the Governor’s office in Nairobi on the 15th, to receive the Audit report on camps and lodges in the National Reserve, prepared and submitted by the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) and mainly funded by USAID, thorough their PREPARED project. The Audit had been conducted on 31 permanent camps and lodges in the Masai Mara. They found:
- Only 12 had leases with the County, or the County Councils that preceded the County;
- Ten facilities had leases with “beneficiaries”, not the County;
- Six camps had either a tripartite or delegated lease (defined in the footnotes);
- Three camps had nothing;
- There were 1,382 beds in the National Reserve;
- There were 20 “open” campsites – some of them were allocated for exclusive use by designated safari operators;
- 61% of the permanent camps had a valid single business permit from the County;
- 49% had an EIA license.
It is interesting to note that the number of beds inside the Reserve exceeds the standard set in the Conservancies surrounding the Reserve. The density in the conservancies is set at approximately one bed per 350 acres; the number of beds already in the whole Reserve exceeds this, it is one bed per 271 acres. This does not include two to three times the number of beds outside the Reserve that rely wholly on the National Reserve for their game viewing. We estimate that there are approximately 3,500 beds in permanent camps using the Narok portion of the Reserve – a density of one bed to 71 acres. Five times the concentration set by the Conservancies as sustainable and three times the density in the Triangle (see paragraph below). Compound this with a total disregard for rules and regulations and one can begin to see why the Mara has such a bad reputation for overcrowding and a lack of control.
If we look at the Mara Triangle we can see that:
- We have 186 beds, or one bed to 670 acres inside the Reserve;
- We have approximately 414 beds outside the Reserve;
- Add the two together and we have 600 permanent beds that are dependent for almost all their game viewing in the Triangle. This translates to one bed to 208 acres. A 40% higher density than in the Conservancies.
It is hoped that the Wildlife Society will be able to conduct Phase II – an Audit of all the camps and lodges outside the Reserve, with particular emphasis of those that are totally reliant on the Reserve for their game viewing. Once we have this information we will be able to make important decisions on the allowable carrying capacity within the Reserve and how to regulate it.
Senior management held a meeting with the directors of Angama Lodge on the 25th and discussed support to the Conservancy – two projects were identified – and also ticketing at Angama. It was agreed that a ticket office could be established at Angama for themselves and Mara West. Two Mara Conservancy personnel would man a barrier on the escarpment to verify all tickets.
 A tripartite agreement was defined as a lease that involved three parties: The grantee, an investor and a member of the County Government;
 A delegated agreement was defined as a grantee who gets a letter from the County Government to hire a manager. The grantee remains the sole proprietor.
Chris Dutton and Dr Amanda Subaluski conducted an experiment with their mini-streams at the Iseiya Headquarters. Each stream had a slightly different treatment and they monitored oxygen levels, algal growth and the emergence of insects. They were using Mara River water from Emarti – upstream from the Conservancies and, hopefully free of contamination from hippo faeces – used in some of their treatments.
We conducted staff appraisals and reviewed salaries and allowances for staff. All our staff were given a 6% increase and some were given more, based on their appraisals and a rationalisation of salaries conducted by management.
The Administrator and Senior Warden visited the Kenya Forest Service Training Institute in Londiani to organise for basic and junior commanders training courses. We will require authority from the Ministry of Internal Security before we can commence training.
Ranger Gloria Nkaminen fell out of a patrol vehicle on the night of the 28th, when they were chasing poachers. She was immediately taken to Ram Hospital in Kisii, fortunately she was not seriously injured, although she suffered some bruising. Two days later one of our community scouts was slightly injured by a buffalo while checking for snares on the escarpment between Ngiro-are and Kinyangaga.
The migration into the Triangle started in earnest during the first week of July and by the 10th there were tens of thousands of wildebeest on the South-eastern (between Nyumba Nane and the Mara River) and along the Tanzanian border West of the Army drift. Wildebeest continued to pour into the Triangle throughout most of the month and the Loita zebra started crossing into the Triangle on the 10th. We must have had over half a million wildebeest in the Triangle for the second half of the month – the concentrations were phenomenal and the best for several years.
Naishuro, our matriarch rhino, either aborted, or had a stillborn calf, on the 21st. It is a great shame, she has now lost her last two calves – lions probably killed her previous one.
Trip Advisor awarded the Mara Triangle a Certificate of Excellence (Five Stars) in 2016 for the fifth year in a row. We have received the Certificate for 2015 and are awaiting the one for 2016. Trip Advisor is one of the World’s largest travel sites. These certificates are awarded by visitors for their consistently great reviews and are a tribute to all our staff for their dedication and commitment to making the Triangle the best protected area in Kenya.
The Mara began to fill in early July and tourist numbers increased significantly from last year. We can only hope that the High Season will continue until mid-September, at the earliest. If this happens, we can expect a near to normal high season of three to four months, instead of the shortened, 6 week, seasons we have been experiencing in the past two years. However, late July saw a huge influx of visitors from the Narok side of the Reserve into the Triangle – stretching our resources to the limit. The toilets at Purungat couldn’t cope with literally hundreds of visitors from the other side of the river. That was just one small problem – we were getting over 70 vehicles a day into the Triangle, mainly to view the crossings from our side – more than doubling our normal capacity. The vehicles were coming because it was easier to access the main Serena crossings sites from our side of the river – but we started witnessing the same chaos that has characterised the crossings on the Narok side. An attempt to try and regulate the number of vehicles into the Triangle on the 27th ended up with tour vehicles blockading the Mara Bridge and chaos for a short while.
A total of 105 people were arrested in July; 82 were arrested in a combined operation in the Nyakweri forest for charcoal burning and illegal logging and 23 were poachers operating in the Lemai Wedge portion of the Serengeti National Park. Eleven of the 23 were arrested as a result of using our Flir thermal-imaging camera donated by WWF and Google. This equipment is beginning to prove invaluable and the rangers are becoming more and more proficient at both using the equipment and responding to directions. This equipment, coupled with the 3,000 Watt lights on the patrol vehicles, are making it extremely difficult to escape detection. The last three people arrested were flabbergasted at how they were detected – normally they run and hide when an ambush is sprung. They did the same but their heat signatures were picked up with the camera.
A Total of 752 snares were recovered during various operations: at least 26 wildebeest were rescued; over 30 had been butchered and several were found dead in snares. Other animals that were killed included over 60 Thompson’s gazelle, topi, zebra and oribi.
One person was seen on the 30th June as he passed close to the Kinyangaga rangers’ post. The TANAPA rangers called on our rangers from Ngiro-are and they managed to arrest him – he was with another person in the Ngiro-are swamp, who managed to escape – they had killed an oribi.
The Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush on the route to Kigonga early on the morning of the 7th and managed to arrest one person. He was in a group of three who had been hunting Thompson’s gazelle; they were carrying seven gazelle. Unbeknownst to the rangers, there was a far larger group of poachers behind – estimated at between 50 - 60 people. The arrest spooked the main group and they escaped – leaving behind an estimated 60 gazelle carcasses.
That day the rangers patrolled the Lemai Wedge and recovered 18 snares, the next day they collected another 20 and on the 9th a team from Oloololo Gate and Anne Kent-Taylor scouts recovered another 34 around Maji ya Bett and the Iseiya team found three more near Daraja la Mzee in the Lemai Wedge. Two wildebeest were found butchered and a topi was found dead in a snare.
Our patrols crossed the river on the 8th and patrolled between the Wogga Kuria Hills and the Bologonja stream. They found one person in a poachers’ camp at 4 pm and arrested him – the others were our hunting. The rangers set an ambush and managed to arrest three more people that night. Nearly all the hunting in this area is done by waiting for animals in steep watercourses and slashing them across the spine with machetes as they cross. There were numerous signs of this method of hunting, from butchered carcasses to live animals with deep gashes just in front of their hindquarters.
Our rangers joined forces with the Police, Administration and County Government in an operation to curb illegal logging and charcoal burning on Olorien Group Ranch on the 11th and 12th. They arrested at total of 82 people; 56 people on the first day and 26 on the second day – some of them from as far away as South Sudan. Most people pleaded guilty and were jailed for one year, or given a fine of Ksh 50,000 each.
Our rangers arrested one person on the 14th during an ambush on the 14th, near Lugga ya Ngiri in the Lemai Wedge, he was one of three people and was carrying 10 wire snares. The same day a further 17 snares were collected; 16 of them by an Oloololo Gate Anne Kent-Taylor patrol.
We had a good success with the Flir camera on the 16th. Our rangers set an ambush at Kasarani, having found snares in the area during a day patrol. They watched three people approach the snares late at night from over one kilometre away using the Flir and managed to place the rangers in position to catch them – all three were arrested. This is the first real success, where poachers were seen, followed and arrested as a result of the equipment. The following night poachers were seen at a considerable distance by using the Flir, but we were unable to position the rangers correctly. The one major success has boosted confidence in the equipment and suddenly the rangers are very keen to use it. Unfortunately the equipment was not connected to allow us to download the whole exercise. Undoubtedly, there will be numerous other opportunities in the coming months.
We are beginning to find more snares; sixteen were recovered after the exercise on the 16th and a further 103 were recovered on the 17th – 61 of them by the Oloololo/A K-T team near Nyarukunguri in the Triangle. One wildebeest had been butchered and another was found dead in a snare.
Three teams collected 159 snares in the Maji ya Suya – Maji ya Bett area along the Kenya/Tanzania border on the 19th. They found one wildebeest dead in a snare, where at least eight had been butchered, and rescued two more.
Thirty-nine snares were collected by our various teams on the 20 and 21st along the Ol Are stream near Daraja la Mzee and in the Konyioke, Maji ya Bett area. At least 2 animals had been butchered and another four were found dead in snares.
The Iseiya rangers set an ambush near Kokamange in the Lemai Wedge on the 22nd and managed to arrest three people, two escaped. They were carrying 21 snares when arrested. The following night the rangers set another ambush near Lempise after patrolling the Lemai Wedge in the afternoon – they had found 22 snares during the day and found where 12 animals had been butchered; they managed to rescue another one. A large group of poachers came in and the rangers managed to arrest two people and recover 13 snares.
A total of 64 snares were collected during day patrols in the Lemai Wedge on the 24th; one animal was rescued and there were signs of three butchered animals. That night, at 3.00 am, the rangers returned and set an ambush on one of the trails coming down the escarpment. Six people were observed approaching the ambush from a distance of over a kilometre, using the Flir camera and the rangers managed to get into position as they approached. Three people were arrested – they were carrying four wildebeest carcasses. (539 snares)
A total of 128 snares were collected on the 26th and 27th. Seventeen wildebeest were rescued, four had been butchered and three were found dead in the snares.
Two more people were arrested on the night of the 28th at Lugga ya Ngiri, again using the Flir. One of the poachers was carrying four snares. On the 29th 82 snares were recovered during daytime patrols – five wildebeest were rescued. That night the rangers were joined by the sector Warden for the Northern Serengeti in an ambush. The teams were using the Flir camera and actually watched as five different groups, totalling over 30 people, entered the Park between 7.00 pm and midnight. The rangers were unable to apprehend any of the poachers as they entered – they were moving very fast over broken and rocky ground. However, the rangers persevered and managed to arrest three people in the early hours of morning as they returned with wildebeest meat from two animals. They were part of a group of eight that the rangers had watched entering a few hours earlier.
Three snares were recovered on the 30th and one wildebeest rescued.
Revenue and Accounts
June revenue stood at Ksh 35 million – more than double for the same period last year. Visitor numbers were up to 2013 levels, still a way to go but a considerable improvement on the past two years. It would appear that our strict enforcement of the 24 hour ticket is paying off, although we still get people trying to extend their stay without paying. The most common trick is to arrive one afternoon and leave early in the morning, after the ticket had lapsed the previous afternoon. It is difficult to quantify our previous losses, but it is interesting to note that we had 71% more non-resident visitors but collected 100% more revenue.
Our management accounts for the year ending June 30th show that we were slightly down on total revenue against our budget – 6%. Our share of the Park fees was Ksh 136,255,123 (after VAT had been paid) against a budget of Ksh 155,989,561; down by Ksh 19 million, almost exactly the amount we paid out in VAT – a figure that had not been factored into the budget. When we looked at total revenue, including the donation from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), balloon royalties and gate sales etc.; we received Ksh 163, 815,406 against a budget of Ksh 174,369,974. We retained Ksh 135,035,008 after paying commissions, mainly to KAPS for revenue collection.
Our expenses were up by 5% on budget: Ksh 135,757,776 against a budget of Ksh 128,746,076. After netting off bank charges and including an exchange rate gain we actually broke even, and actually made a very small profit – a far cry from the Ksh 42 million loss in the previous year.
Repairs and maintenance
We removed the Braithwaite water tank at the Iseiya Headquarters – it was badly corroded and was also corroding the platform. We will replace it with a plastic tank, already purchased.
We overhauled the injector pump on the Case tractor and modified the exhaust system.
We completely renovated and repainted three of our vehicles; two Land Cruisers and one Suzuki.
We installed a very powerful strip light on one of our anti-poaching vehicles, the one donated by DSWT for use at night. This will greatly assist us when following poachers at night, once an ambush has been sprung.
We completed grading all the roads and then graded the road up the escarpment to Mpata Club – the camps on that side of the escarpment had placed murram stacks along the whole of the top section of this road and we levelled them off.
We received a quotation from Kenya Power to bring mains electricity to Oloololo Gate – it will cost Ksh 1.3 million and we have asked KAPS if they would be prepared to share the cost.
We renovated and painted the buildings at the Iseiya Headquarters and will start on Ngiro-are in August.
There are so many visitors stopping at Purungat from the Narok side that we have decided to add an additional four pit-latrines to cope with the more than 100 visitors we get there at lunchtime.
We were asked to repair the Kichwa airstrip and wanted to close it for 10 days to do the renovations. This was not possible, so we spent a week patching it as best we could between flights.