July was the driest since we started operations in the Mara – one very local storm near Ngiro-are and one or two showers in the West and South of the Triangle. This comes in the wake of a fairly severe drought, and we don’t expect any significant rainfall before mid-October, maybe even November. The Mara Triangle is one of the very few areas with grass – we have managed to restrict cattle grazing – but the pressure is bound to increase as more and more cattle move into Trans Mara and the residents begin to lose their livestock. Our grass will certainly sustain the migration but it won’t last any real pressure from livestock. We already have close to half a million wildebeest, as they move in to the only area in the ecosystem with both pasture and water.
We had two vehicles overturn within the first four days of the month. In the first incident, some young adults were in transit to Keekorok and were travelling at well over the speed limit when they rolled near Serena, the driver was also intoxicated. The driver was the son of a lady politician from Bomet. In the second incident, a Roadstar supply vehicle overturned near the BBC lugga with 10,000 litres of diesel – all but 1,000 litres of fuel were spilt.
The Chief Executive and Ms Lena Munge attended a two-day inaugural meeting of the Greater Serengeti Conservation Society in Seronera, the Serengeti Headquarters. The Society is the initiative of Drs Markus Borner and Kaush Arha and attempts to bring together key stakeholders from both sides of the Kenya/Tanzania border. It also involves both scientists and managers in trying to use science to help make informed management decisions. The meeting agreed that the Society should take on five or six issues. On top of the list was the Mara River, seen as crucial to the survival of the Migration – at no time has this been more appropriate. The Mara River will be a crucial water source for the current migration.
The Chief Executive met with the Governor, Narok County, Mr Moses Chelanga and Mr James Wamugu – County Lawyer - to finalise the Management Agreement on the 13th. It was agreed that the agreement would be signed by the County on the 17th and then given to the Mara Conservancy for signing. This was duly signed at specially convened Board Meeting on the 31st. It will now be taken for the Company Seal by the Company Secretary and then be registered.
One other issue that was dealt with was payment by Governors’ Balloons to the Mara Conservancy through KAPS. The Governor spoke to Mr D Gramitticas and then told the County lawyer to write a letter instructing the balloon company to pay the Conservancy. This has been a very long- standing issue and it has now hopefully been resolved.
Mr Jack Ma visited the Triangle for three days from the 22nd. Mr Ma is allegedly the richest man in Asia and the founder of Alibaba. A special camp site was set up for him at Kishangaa and he was accompanied by a group of his friends. He was visited by Cabinet Secretaries Najib Balala and Judi Wakahungu as well as Mr Mukhisa Kitui, Secretary General of the United Nations Commission for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) whilst here. Mr Ma is committed to conservation and has set up a fund, the Paradise Foundation – a US$ 300 million global fund for conservation.
We received a new bloodhound puppy from the United States, she will be trained in the Triangle and improve our bloodline.
The Warden held a Wardens and NCOs’ meeting on the 1st.
We held range practice on the 11th for the recruits recently graduated from Manyani and also the previous graduation.
The wildebeest continued to pour into the Triangle throughout the month – the major crossing point was at the junction to the BBC lugga. There were virtually no crossings at the traditional sites upstream from Serena until the last few days of the month. The wildebeest then concentrated around the salt-lick, along the steam below and the escarpment. The lack of water in our streams and springs will be the greatest limitation to animal distribution this year.
Dr Limo darted an elephant from a herd that raids crops on the escarpment on the 23rd, it will be most interesting to see the herd’s movements. Two other elephant wandered into the farms near Kigonga in Tanzania. One of them was shot with at least 15 arrows – we found no trace of it in a subsequent search.
Visitor numbers were exceptional. There was a definite decline in visitors from Europe and America but this was more than made up for by Indian and Chinese visitors.
The meeting in Seronera prompted us to review the status of the Mara River. I am grateful to Dr Amanda Subaluski and Mr Chris Dutton for putting together a status report. They listed the institutions and research projects over the past 15-20 years. Some of the key findings:
- Water quality is closely linked to discharge. As water levels decline in the river, so does water quality;
- Depositions of concentrations of hippo dung in the river during low flows can lead to substantial declines in water quality.. The river requires periodic floods to flush out the dung;
- Mass drownings of wildebeest occur most years and contribute important resources to the river food web;
- Head water flows from the Mau are important at maintain base flows. Conversion of forest to agriculture and grassland have reduced dry season flows;
- There is sufficient water in the river during the wet season, but the river no longer meets calculated reserve levels in the dry season – too much is already being extracted;
- Sediment levels have increased substantially since the 1960s and sediment levels from the Talek and middle Mara River have exceeded those from the upper catchment in the past five years;
- This increased sedimentation has been linked to increased mercury levels in the Mara wetland. There are a number of conservation initiatives and there is an upcoming USAID project planned for the near future that will begin to implement the proposal developed by the Mau Mara Serengeti (MaMaSe) Project. There are three major dams and an inter-basin water transfer that have been proposed for the Mara River Basin. It is understood that the Kenyans have shelved plans for two of the dams in the catchment, but that the Tanzanians are pursuing the Borenga dam in Tanzania. This dam has the potential to have serious ecological impacts. The status of the water transfer from the Amala River to Ewaso Ng’iro is unknown.
The onset of the migration has led to a corresponding increase in the use of wire snares – from hardly anything in the preceding months to 2,322 collected in July. In July we managed to arrest 25 poachers – all of them in Tanzania. The relatively low numbers of poachers in no way diminishes the extremely hard work done by our rangers, they were out 16 to 18 hours a day, almost every day. We are now dealing with poachers who focus their activities within easy reach of their homesteads; they can come down, set their snares, butcher any animals and be gone before dawn. One huge advantage for the poachers is the escarpment; they have people watching for any movement by our patrols and they report back. If they see any activity near set snares they send out word and no one comes down. Our rangers rescued 53 wildebeest, 15 were found dead in snares and 67 wildebeest were found to have been butchered, as were five zebra, one topi and one hippo.
Three wire snares were recovered near Miungu on the 31st June and a further six were collected on the 3rd near Daraja Mbili in the Lemai Wedge. One wildebeest was found dead in a snare on the 3rd.
As the migration began to move into the Lemai Wedge we began to see more signs of poaching.On the 4th the Ngiro-are rangers recovered 31 snares; 13 during the day. The previous night they had seen three people come down the escarpment but they eluded arrest. The three were not so fortunate on the 4th. Two of them were arrested as they carried 18 snares and the meat from one zebra from the Ngiro-are swamp. They had camped the night in the swamp, caught and butchered the zebra and were on their way home.
A further 73 snares were recovered over the next two days in the Limana/Miungu areas: two wildebeest were rescued, one topi and one zebra had been butchered. The Ngiro-are team managed to see a group of eight people descend the escarpment on the night of the sixth and managed to arrest two of them. They were carrying three snares but were on their way to check others that had already been set.
A total of 128 snares were recovered between the 7th and 10th – all in the Lemai Wedge and in the Miungu, Limana, Kasarani and Kichwa Ndovu sections. Two wildebeest were rescued and six had been butchered. One person was arrested by a combined TANAPA/Ngiro-are team on the 9th after he, and others, had killed a hippo near Lemai. The following night two people were arrested – one near Kichwa ya Ndovu by the Iseiya rangers after he and his two companions were seen in the FLIR. The other was arrested by a combined Kinyangaga/Ngiro-are team very close to the Kinyangaga ranger post.
The rangers continued to pick up large numbers of snares but, for the most part the poachers eluded arrest. On the 12th a routine patrol came across a very fresh camp – situated right out in the open in an area called Itaro, across the river. The poachers had obviously seen the rangers and escaped. Forty-two snares were collected, five wildebeest were dead in the snares and one had been butchered. On the same day the Ngiro-are rangers recovered 178 snares along the escarpment and rescued four wildebeest.
The following day, the 13th, a total of 293 snares were recovered by both teams in the Limana, Miungu area and along the escarpment. Six wildebeest were rescued and two had been butchered.
The Iseiya rangers saw poachers on the 14th but they escaped – these poachers had killed five wildebeest by slashing their spines with machetes. The Ngiro-are team left at 3.00 am and returned at 10.00 am – they pretended to all leave soon after dawn and managed to arrest one person who thought that the coast was clear.
On the 15th the Iseiya team patrolled along Sampura and Daraja la Mzee and saw no signs of poaching. The Ngiro-are rangers patrolled the escarpment and recovered 156 snares. They rescued two wildebeest; three were dead and four had been slaughtered. Ninety more snares were recovered on the 16th and one person arrested, when the patrol set out at 2.00 am.
A total of 201 snares were collected on the 18th and 19th – 94 of them by the Oloololo/Anne Kent- Taylor team and all of them in the western portion of the Lemai Wedge. Twelve wildebeest were rescued and 17 butchered, as were two zebra. The Ngiro-are rangers managed to arrest one, of three, people as they came in to set snares on the night of the 19th.
The Iseiya rangers found nine old snares at Kasarrani on the 20th – four animals were dead in the snares and two were rescued. The Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person near Olaro Nyioke in the Lemai Wedge and recovered 211 snares along the escarpment. That night they set an ambush near Lemai and managed to arrest two people – they had slaughtered one wildebeest and had 13 snares with them. The following day the Iseiya rangers managed to arrest one person and recover four snares near Lempise and that night the Ngiro-are arrested one more person, a cripple who had been arrested before. He was carrying wildebeest meat and 20 wire snares.
A routine patrol found two wildebeest caught in snares and the Iseiya team set am ambush that night; no one came. The Ngiro-are rangers recovered 195 snares and rescued two wildebeest along the bottom of the escarpment. On the 24th a further 118 snares were recovered along the escarpment and Miungu in the Lemai Wedge. Four animals were rescued, nine had been butchered and two were dead in the snares. An old elephant carcass was found with the tusks intact.
We continued to recover snares and on the 25th our combined teams recovered 236 of them. Ten animals were rescued and seven had been butchered. That night the Ngiro-are team saw a group of poached enter the Lemai Wedge by using the FLIR. They then disappeared but three of them were arrested as they returned home with wildebeest meat much later in the night..
More snares on the 26th, 102 were recovered. One animal was rescued but five had been slaughtered and butchered. Our rangers set up ambushes but the wildebeest had actually moved outside the Park, into the fields, and were being hunted outside TANAPA’s jurisdiction.
Our Iseiya rangers crossed the Mara River and patrolled the Nyamburi area with their TANAPA counterparts. The came across a recently vacated camp with the remains of one zebra. They remained in the same general area and set an ambush that night. There was a lot of poacher activity in very difficult terrain but they did manage to arrest two people as they carried two wildebeest carcasses. The Ngiro-are and Oloololo/Anne Kent-Taylor recovered 153 snares and rescued two animals in the Lemai Wedge on the same day.
The Iseiya rangers went on a late patrol across the Mara River and joined forces again with their TANAPA counterparts as they patrolled around Ngira. Again, lots of poachers were seen, thirteen were seen with the FLIR, and the rangers managed to arrest two people. The Ngiro-are and Oloololo/A K-T scouts recovered 122 snares, rescued one animal and reported that numerous animals had been butchered.
Two more people were arrested by the Ngiro-are rangers on the night of the 30th as they came to hunt in the Lemai Wedge near Lempise. Seventeen wire snares were recovered.
Revenue and Accounts
We continue to see a marked improvement in visitor numbers, and hence revenue. In June the total collections were Ksh 49,274,774 (up from Ksh 31,390,347 in May and Ksh 35, 632,975 in June 2016).
People often ask how much it costs to run the Conservancy, the Table above gives an accurate cost for 2016/17. If we convert at Ksh 102 to the US$ (a fairly stable exchange rate over the past months) our total revenue was US$ 2.4 million (Park fees were just over US$ 2million). Our commission to KAPS for revenue collection amounted to US$ 413,000 and our actual recurrent expenditure amounted to US$ 1.575 million. The amount we achieve with nearly US$ 1.6 million – the infrastructure, roads, security to name some of the work we do - is very impressive and all our staff should be congratulated. Many places would be proud of these achievements on twice the budget.
Repairs and maintenance
We graded the road to Mpata Club from Oloololo Gate.
A technician from Davis & Shirtliff, a company specialising in water, visited and we are expecting a proposal for a solar pumping system at Oloololo Gate.
We completed installing new signs at campsites and along the high use zone.
We made and fitted new seats in the ranger vehicle at Ngiro-are, we also repaired the body where is was cracked.
The new radio system was installed – it will need some further work on it to maximise its effectiveness.
We thatched the new uni-huts at Iseiya and replaced the thatch on other buildings at Iseiya and Ngiro-are and Purungat.
We decided not to burn in July, considering it too dry and the need for wildlife grazing.
We have made nearly 2,000 cement blocks in preparation for constructing new rooms for mid- level staff.
Report on focus for July
Focus for August 2017
Improve radio system and install tracking;
Complete annual audit;
Continue working on the roads;
Complete thatching at Purungat;
Start on staff housing at Iseiya;
Build a kitchen at Kilo 2;
Register Management Agreement; and
Survey Reserve boundary.