We had a few days of heavy, sustained and widespread rain from the 20th, messing up all the work we done on the roads near Little Governors.
We held a Board meeting on the 3rd and reviewed the Annual Work Plan and Budget for the next financial year. We expect to break even in the coming year – for the first time in four years.
The Chief Executive met with Ms Lena Munge, County Executive for Tourism and Conservation in the County and Mr Jonathan Scott on the 5th to discuss management and tourism issues in the Mara. It was disappointing to hear that a camp that had been under construction and stopped, had resumed building to appease political pressure. There is a real danger that the lack of progress in dealing with some of the fundamental issues (No Management Plan; proliferation of camps - many of them illegal; corruption at the gates; livestock in the Reserve; and lack of control at crossings and at predator sightings) in the Mara will lead to more negative publicity. We hope that the County will take control, manage the Reserve properly and resolve these issues.
We completed 15 years in the Mara on the 11th – hopefully we have made a difference in that time and the Triangle is a better place now that it would have been without us. We have invited the Governor and County staff for a small celebration and are waiting for an acceptable date from the Governor.
We burnt an area on the 11th, in anticipation of some rain – it rained that afternoon. For a while the wind changed, blowing the smoke East and North – visibility was extremely poor for an hour before the rain put out the fire, and the wind changed.
The Chief Executive met with Mr M Chelanga to discuss a new Management Agreement, in particular the sections regarding the collection and distribution of revenue, on the 17th. We have since communicated on several occasions and will meet again in early July to review progress.
Mr Arne Witt, a specialist in invasive plants visited the Mara during the month and commented on our control measures against Parthenium hysteroporus, an invasive weed that has taken hold over much of Eastern Africa, from Ethiopia through Kenya and Uganda to Northern Tanzania. He found one or two plants but far fewer than on his previous visits. We still have a problem with Cassia and Lantana species that were introduced by Mara Serena when the started. The Cassia trees are not such a problem but the Lantana is a major invasive plant that has taken root on the whole of the Serena hill.
Amanda Subaluski and Chris Dutton returned to the Triangle to continue their research on the Mara River. Amanda has received her PhD and had a daughter since she was last here almost a year ago. Well done on both counts.
How can one even begin to do justice to several years hard work in the field and then all the detailed analysis that went into Amanda’s PhD in one short paragraph but I will try. The dissertation entitled “Effects of animal subsidy form and environmental characteristics on ecosystem function” basically looked at nutrient inputs into the Mara River ecosystem from two major sources of “nutrient subsidy” – hippo excretions/egestion year round and wildebeest carcasses during the migration.
· It was calculated that hippo contribute 3,125 tons of dry matter, 180 tons of nitrogen and 18 tons of phosphorous to the river annually in the form of urine and faeces; and
· Wildebeest contribute 340 tons of dry matter, 121 tons of carbon and 14 tons of phosphorous every year.
It was calculated that high excretion levels by hippo may actually increase respiration and decrease primary production in the river.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conducted SMART (Spatial Monitoring & Reporting Tool) training for our staff and provided them with three smart phones so that we will be able to monitor our patrols and where they find things of interest – poachers, snares, key wildlife species etc., then download the data and produce monthly reports. It will greatly assist us in tracking our activities and monitoring some of our important wildlife species. It will map for us the key poaching hotspots, the extent of our patrols and probably highlight some of the gaps in our coverage.
Mr Joash Kilianga started his machine operator’s course at Ngong. He is being trained to use three earthmoving machines and this will enable him to stand in for one of our operators if necessary. We will send Mr M Kortom on the same course at the beginning of July. Mr Kortom has been with us for years and has been responsible for cutting all our grass tracks for most of them.
Mr O Kabuti completed his training on plumbing and gas welding and returned at the end of the month.
We reviewed and approved a new set of allowances and bonuses for staff and held a Wardens’ meeting on the 30th. Five of the eight senior staff present were with us when we started the Conservancy. A big thank you to them, and to all the others who have joined us over the years for staying with us and making the Mara Conservancy the best managed National Reserve in Kenya. Something they should all be proud of.
We sold two of our tracker dogs to Ol Jogi ranch in Laikipia for US$ 1,200 each and they were collected on the 30th. We remain with four tracking and two sniffer dogs, which we consider sufficient for our purposes.
The migration started crossing into Kenya, along the Sand River, on the 9th, much earlier than expected, given the amount of rain we had received over the past few months. However, only a few animals crossed before the rain disrupted movement and the wildebeest remained in the Northern Serengeti. We had our first small crossings into the Triangle on the 29th and by the 30th we were beginning to see large herds on the Narok side of the River.
The road team found a dead elephant, with tusks intact, when they were burning between Mlima Mbili and the road to Ngiro-are. It had been dead for weeks.
The crops are ripening around Angata Barrikoi and elephant are beginning to crop raid, as is the norm when maize ripens. A group went into fields near Kontamet, on the escarpment and refused to move. Sadly, one 16 year-old boy was killed by one of the elephants – his body was found on the 21st, the day after the elephant were in the field.
Visitor numbers are reaching 2013 levels – far better that both 2014 and 2015, but still some way off from the peak in 2011. This year we were helped by an influx of visitors from India, a comparatively new market for us.
We continue to come across attempts to by-pass our ticketing system:
· People staying on the escarpment and using one of the illegal roads into the Triangle without paying; people arriving after the gate has closed and then not being ticketed; people who get Kichwa Tembo tickets, even though they are staying in camp that should be paying the Conservancy.
· We had three incidents, when vehicles left after three nights, when they had in fact only been ticketed for two nights. Mr D Lemuta noted these discrepancies and alerted Oloololo Gate, before vehicles arrived at the gate. In one case, the KAPS supervisor scrutinised the ticket and then released the vehicle – without charging for the extra day. It transpired that the guests probably paid for three nights, the clerk ticketed for two nights and pocketed the difference, US$ 420 – probably in collusion with the driver. In the first incident, the clerk then took off once the scam was discovered but, in the meantime, Mr Lemuta received a very threatening text message. It now appears that there is another potential loophole – tickets expiring in the afternoon and drivers leaving early the following morning in the hope of not to get caught by our “cheetah” vehicles.
Our monitoring system works extremely well and I a proud of our monitors for doing such a good job and withstanding pressure to take “something small” to turn a blind eye. I also congratulate the KAPS manager on the ground for dealing with these issues and withstanding enormous pressure to allow people to continue work once they have been compromised.
There will be an estimated 45 camps in the Northern Serengeti this season, most of them have moved in already, a far cry from no camps eight years ago. The Tanzanians are capitalising on comparable crossings and excellent game viewing.
A total of 38 poachers were arrested in June, eight of them in the Triangle. We are beginning to see snares again and 128 were recovered in the month.
The Ngiro-are rangers found a buffalo carcass with a spear in it on the 3rd at Ol Donyo Olpaek – right on the Kenya/Tanzania border. The buffalo had been dead for several days.
Six people were arrested in two days, the 7th and 8th when our teams crossed the Mara River and patrolled downstream from Kogatende. Three people were arrested on the 7th near the island – they were fishing but had spears. The following day our rangers arrested one person in the morning and, as the were returning, they saw two people along the riverbank at around 6.30 pm. One of our cars was on the Lemai side of the river and the other on the far side – the poachers tried to escape across the river but were met by the Ngiro-are team on the Lemai side.
A combined patrol saw signs of poaching at “Kisumu Ndogo” along the River, towards Little Governor’s on the 9th but did not find the poachers.
Our rangers crossed the Mara River again on the 11th and arrested two people on the edge of the Nya ma Lumbwa Hills as they were setting snares. We recovered nine snares, a bow and 10 poisoned arrows. The poachers led our rangers to their camp, where they found some dried meat; probably given to them by another group. That evening our rangers set an ambush at the Kichwa Tembo junction in the Northern Serengeti. Eleven people walked into the ambush and five were arrested just before 8.00 pm. They were carrying 30 snares.
Our Iseiya rangers joined up with a TANAPA ranger at Kogatende on the 17th and patrolled between the Nya ma Lumbwa hills and the Bologonja River. They arrested four people in their camp – they had killed four wildebeest, one topi and an impala and had 13 snares. The patrol continued and that night they set an ambush at the Kichwa Tembo junction – they arrested two more people but five escaped. The two were carrying 10 snares and had bows and poisoned arrows. They spent the night out and continued their patrol the next morning and arrested a further five people in their camp – they had killed five wildebeest and had 20 snares and bows with poisoned arrows. That night they set another ambush between Kogatende and Ngira – three more people were arrested with torches. Fourteen people arrested in two days.
Before they returned to Iseiya our rangers caught one more person on the 20th near Ngira – still on the other side of the river. He was with two others who escaped – they had killed one wildebeest.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person in an ambush at Lugga ya Ngiri on the night of the 19th, as they came to hunt in the Lemai Wedge. Fifteen snares were recovered that day.
We had another major success on the 21st. Our rangers, with a couple of A K-T scouts, patrolled along both sides of the Mara River and came across a poacher’s camp downstream from Governor’s Private Camp and arrested five people, six escaped. We found that they had killed a hippo and had waterbuck meat – they claimed that they too the waterbuck meat from lions. That night our Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush at 3.00 am and the escaped poachers walked into the ambush. Three of the six were arrested, including the group leader. This group – with two others who hunt along the river – have been a thorn in our side for some time. They camp on the Narok side but cross the Triangle when coming and going. The eight were convicted in a Kilgoris Court and sentenced to a fine of Ksh 400,000 each or four years in jail.
Our rangers recovered 20 snares on the 22nd near Sampura in the Lemai Wedge and another eleven over the next few days.
A combined patrol crossed the Mara River on the 26th; were joined by three TANAPA rangers, and patrolled Ngira. They found no recent signs of poaching. That evening they set an ambush on one of the routes from Machwechwe and managed to arrest one person – two escaped. The arrested poacher confirmed that our constant patrols around Ngira were beginning to pay off and poachers were increasingly wary of hunting in that area.
Revenue and Accounts
May revenue was better than April by 16%; usually May is the worst month of the year. We had noted a significant increase in visitors during the latter half of the month and had expected more than the 48% increase that was actually recorded between this and the comparable month in 2015.
Our management accounts are showing that 2015/16 will be better than the previous financial year. We expect to break even, or make a small loss but far less than for the year ending June 2015. All the indications are that we will be into a profit for the coming year – unless there is some unforeseen drop in tourism. We can thank the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and an improvement in tourist numbers from September 2015 for our change in fortunes.
We are on track to complete our annual accounts for the year ending June 30th by the 15th July and will be asking Deloitte to start our Annual Audit before the end of the month. We are currently working on reconciling KAPS’ reports with bankings – there seems to be a discrepancy.
Repairs and maintenance
We purchased new signs to replace the ones at our entrance points with Narok County & the Mara Conservancy welcome you, instead of County Council of Trans Mara welcoming people.
We painted the concrete markers on the thresholds to the Serena Airstrip.
We graded all the roads between Iseiya and Oloololo but the heavy rains over four days from the 20th did a lot of damage and stopped us from grading for a week. However, we subsequently completed the main road to Purungat and started on the lower road from Serena to Purungat.
We added an additional soak-pit for the grey water from the staff camp – the first one was full and overflowing.
We cut all the grass tracks, including one or two new ones in the Ngiro-are corner.
We brought in an electrician to fix all the minor electrical faults in our vehicles and equipment and then hired two panel beaters to fix the Ngiro-are Land Cruiser; it had a badly dented door – probably from reversing into an object when open.
We replaced the front differential on the DSWT vehicle – one pin had broken and damaged the bell-housing.
Report on focus for June
Focus for July 2016
· Set date for Annual Audit;
· Reconcile KAPS reports with bankings;
· Hold celebration for 15 years in the Mara;
· Complete grading roads;
· Work on Mara Management Plan;
· Work on Management Agreement;
· Continue with renovations; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.