The rains continued through the first week of June, making it difficult to cut grass and grade the roads. The rains eased off by the middle of the month, with a few sporadic thunderstorms.
We met with Dr Keith Scholey of Disney’s “African Cats” film on the 16th and discussed progress on the film, the anticipated release on 22nd April 2011 and linkages between the Mara Conservancy and the Disney website. We watched a draft cut of the first half of the film – it has absolutely stunning shots and a great deal of drama and has all the makings of a major film. We are hoping that the “Mara Trust” will be registered in the United States in good time and that the film will generate funds for the Trust. Our first project will be to build a visitor centre.
We held a meeting with Mr Dominic Grammaticas, Managing Director of Musiara Ltd, to discuss ballooning and Park entrance fees on the 25th. We both agreed that the issue of Park entrance fees should be resolved by Narok and Trans Mara County Councils and Mr Grammaticas suggested arbitration to resolve the issue of balloon cess. Although nothing was formally resolved, it was a good meeting and we are grateful to Musiara Ltd for making the effort. A demand letter written to the Conservancy by the Clerk, County Council of Trans Mara, on the 28th June 2010 superseded the outcome of this meeting. This letter gives Musiara Ltd two weeks to pay all arrears in Park entrance fees and balloon cess.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Masai Mara National Reserve conducted an ear-notching exercise on the 10th June. The team saw a total of eight rhino in the Triangle and darted five of them – four were ear-notched and the fifth was found to be pregnant. Two rhino were fitted with radio transmitters in their horns. We understand that a further ten rhino were seen in Narok, two of them outside the Reserve. I have to question the importance of these ear-notching exercises – they are extremely disruptive and traumatic for the rhino. We have no equipment to follow the rhino with transmitters and some of the rhino, which were extremely tame and visible, have since reverted to being shy and secretive.
The first, small, groups of zebra and wildebeest started crossing Sand River into the Game Reserve, near Roan Hill, on the 12th. Within two days there were large herds crossing into the Reserve and by the 18th we were seeing herds coming into the Triangle. This is much earlier than anticipated – we had thought that the heavy and prolonged rains would have kept the animals in the Serengeti.
We have had a request to station rangers on top of the escarpment from the farmers around Angata Barrikoi. Their maize crops are ripening and this is a time when elephant routinely go up the escarpment and raid their crops. Human/wildlife conflict is a perennial problem; when lions and leopard go up the escarpment after the migration and when elephant raid crops as they ripen. The predator problem is largely being addressed with the construction of predator-proof “bomas”. This is a project that was started by the Conservancy but has since been taken up on the escarpment by the Anne Kent-Taylor fund - it has now expanded into Koiyaki and the Mara North Conservancy.
The dogs have undergone some extensive training in areas where they were seen as weak. The training focused on working in areas that had been contaminated by wildlife, livestock and people. They also worked on hard ground and with old scent. The training really improved the skills of both handlers and dogs.
We are expecting another dog in August – this will be a bitch and will enable us to breed. I would like to extend my thanks to Dr Asuka Takita and Linda Porter for their hard work in finding and training all our dogs.
Eleven of our rangers have started a three-month paramilitary training course at Londiani. It leaves us a little short staffed for the beginning of the poaching season but will be well worth it in the long term.
We held a celebration on the 19th to commemorate the arrest of 1,400 poachers – we are already at 1,439.
We held the award ceremony for most responsible guide at Mara West Camp on the 3rd. Ms Charity Cheruiyot from Batleur Camp won the award – a two-week safari to top camps and lodges in the South Luangwa Nation Park in Zambia. We gave certificates for second prize to Abdul Karim from Olonana, and runners-up Mark Liaram from Mara West and Timothy Kiok from Kichwa Tembo. We noticed an improvement in the quality of guiding from the first year but were still disappointed that some of the camps and lodges seem disinterested in both the competition and making their guides more responsible. We had a great deal of interest and support from & Beyond, Mara Siria, Mara West and Olonana Camp, little support from Mpata and Kilima Camps and absolutely no interest from Mara Serena and Mara Timbo.
I would like to thank Dr Cheryl and Manny Mvula of Tribal Voice Communications for their initiative, for finding sponsors and for holding the initial workshops on responsible guiding. I would like to thank the assessors for their work, the participants for taking on the role of responsible guides and a very big thank you to the Born Free Foundation for sponsoring the competition and giving the award.
The camps and lodges are beginning to fill up and we can expect an excellent high season.
We arrested 22 poachers and three stock-thieves during June. This brings the total arrests up to 1,439. We suddenly started recovering significant numbers of snares from the 15th – coinciding with the onset of the migration into the northern Serengeti and the Mara – 117 were recovered in two weeks.
The tracks of three suspected cattle rustlers were seen on the 1st, we mounted an operation to track them down but were unable to locate them. The thieves then stole six goats and two sheep and hid somewhere on the escarpment for the night. They then tried to return home on the second night. They ran into a herd of elephant on their way back, the sheep and goats were scattered; an elephant supposedly killed one. Our rangers followed their tracks and arrested all three people and recovered two goats and a sheep – the thieves had butchered, and were carrying, the remains of one goat. The thieves were taken to court in Kilgoris, they admitted being in the country illegally, but denied the theft.
A freshly speared, and wounded, hippo was found near Sankuria on the 9th. Our rangers combed the whole area for a day but never found the poachers. That night the poachers just evaded an ambush as they returned to Tanzania.
A combined force of rangers arrested one person at Daraja Mbili in the Lemai Wedge on the 12th. He was alone and had caught some fish – no snares were recovered.
On the 15th the Ngiro-are team recovered 17 wire snares near Kasarani, in the Lemai Wedge.
The Iseiya team arrested six, of nine, poachers on the 16th along the river, downstream from Purungat. The poachers had come in to meet the first herds of wildebeest and had set a number of snares. 35 wire snares were recovered. The following day the patrol went into the same area and recovered another 16 wire snares.
The Oloololo Rangers, in conjunction with the Care for the Wild/Anne Kent-Taylor scouts, arrested two people near Olopikidongoe on the 20th. The two had killed three zebra with wire snares. The following night, at 7.00 pm, the same team arrested the third person in the group and recovered 23 wire snares. The three, one Luo and two Kisii, were handed over to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The Luo is known as a notorious poacher and was on the KWS most wanted list for the area. We understand that these poachers were released by the Court and we are following it up.
A combined Iseiya/Ngiro-are team arrested three people in the Lemai Wedge at 7.30 pm on the 22nd, near an area knows as Kichwa Tembo. The three were on their way to set snares when arrested; four wire snares were recovered.
The following day, the 23rd, the Iseiya team arrested one of two people near Nyakita Pembe. The two were carrying sufficient food and supplies for several days when apprehended. 12 wire snares were recovered.
The Ngiro-are team, with their counterparts from Kinyangaga, in Tanzania, arrested five wa Kiuria poachers on the night of the 24th as they entered the Lemai Wedge on a major route from Masanga. 12 wire snares were recovered.
On the 25th the Ngiro-are team recovered thirty-six wire snares in the Lemai Wedge and that evening set up an ambush in the area. Three people were arrested at 8.45 pm – they were different from the ones who had set the snares and were carrying sufficient supplies to camp out for several days.
The Iseiya team found one dead impala in a snare near Kasarani, in the Lemai Wedge on the 26th. A total of three snares were recovered. A further ten wire snares were recovered on the 29th and 30th in the Miungu and Kasarani areas of the Lemai Wedge; one dead wildebeest was found in the snares.
Revenue and Accounts
Kenya Airports Parking Services (KAPS) took over the role of revenue collection on the 15th and we stopped selling Mara Conservancy tickets on the 14th. The take-over was not without drama, local politicians threatened to get a court order to stop KAPS from operating on the 14th – they felt that KAPS were not employing enough Masai. The issue was resolved when it was explained that KAPS were indeed employing locals, although they had not understood all the clan issues in Trans Mara. We had to spend a great deal of time in working with KAPS to set up the new system, informing stakeholders and in ensuring that there were no hitches in the changeover.
We are happy to report that the new system is working remarkably well and we have received several favourable reviews. Once the system is fully operational it will mark a radical change in the way we collect and account for revenue in protected areas. Within a few weeks we hope to provide credit card facilities, an e-ticketing option and sale points in key shopping malls in Nairobi. Transactions can also be made through the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) and the KAPS office in Nairobi. Once a transaction has been made, people will only have to carry a print-out with their unique code number – this will enable the revenue clerks to access all the details on their computers at the three main entry points and issue a “ticket”. Tickets are valid for 24 hours – any extension will be charged at a full day’s rate. The ticket is invalidated upon exit. KAPS have also installed a number of additional security features, including CCTV cameras at entry/exit points.
We are excited, and proud, to be at the forefront of a radical new ticketing system with KAPS and wish them the very best in refining the system further. We should not overlook the excellent work that has been done by Earthview Management Ltd in collecting revenue over the past nine years. Earthview have maintained the very highest level of professionalism and accountability right to the end. Indeed KAPS have employed many of their key staff in the Mara – a testament to their skills and integrity.
We hired a JCB back-hoe/loader to dig murram for ten days. This will give us a sufficient stockpile to complete most of our planned road works for the next four to six months. We managed to repair several sections of road while we had the JCB.
Some oil seals on the left-hand grader tandem wore out and had to be replaced. This meant that the grader was out of action for nearly three weeks. It was repaired on the 24th and started work again the following day.
We completed cutting all the grass tracks in preparation for the high season.
We installed 25 new pipes on the Ngiro-are pipeline – replacing ones that were badly corroded. We also repaired the short pipeline and well at Purungat.
We painted the buildings at Iseiya.
We started on a new toilet block for staff at Purungat.
We tried burning one of our planned blocks on the 27th. It was still too green to get a reasonable fire but, as the wildebeest were beginning to come in, we decided to try before the herds entered that area. We tried another block towards Ngiro-are and that burnt much better but was put out by a heavy thunderstorm that evening.
Report on focus for June
Focus for July 2010
· Complete toilet block at Purungat;
· Complete grading roads in Triangle and work on access roads outside;
· Start on new dog kennel at Ngiro-are;
· Re-surface sections of the main Serena to Oloololo Road;
· Open tracks to, and around, “Kampi ya Mungu”.
· Install two new culverts on the lower road to Purungat, time allowing; and
· Work with KAPS on new revenue collection system.