We had two days of heavy rain just before the full moon on the 10th. We then continued to have sporadic showers for a few days before the dry season set in. Large tracts of the Mara ecosystem are extremely dry as we go into the dry season proper. The rains failed in most of eastern Narok County and the wheat-fields. This will mean a crop failure for most of the farmers between Narok and Ngore Ngore, leading to a potential wheat shortage in the country, to go with the current maize shortage. The wheat fields may provide some respite for livestock; these areas are traditionally grazed after harvesting. But, we can expect major pressure from livestock owners to graze in the Mara Conservancy, the main Reserve and Conservancies. This drought, unless there is significant unseasonal rain, has all the makings of a humanitarian disaster, with increased poverty and large scale mortality of livestock. Income from the Reserve and the expected bumper season might alleviate the situation to some extent, as long as the revenue is put to good use. The drought itself will probably impact our long-term conservation goals: as livestock continue to invade the Reserve and destroy wildlife habitat in an attempt by owners to protect their animals.
We held a Board meeting in Nairobi on the 8th and approved our Annual Work Plan and budget for 2017/18. We also approved the draft Management Agreement with Narok County Government, subject to the necessary legislation being in place. The County Government approved the required legislation on the15th and we are now awaiting its formal gazettment. We should then be ready to sign a new ten-year Management Agreement with the County.
Mr E Molai and Ms L Munge attended a meeting hosted by the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Honourable Najib Balala on the 9th. The meeting was called to discuss the tourism industry and the deteriorating quality of Kenya’s tourism product. Narok County and the Kenya Wildlife Service both came in for criticism for poor management – particularly in relation to their failure to control illegal cattle incursions into the Parks and Reserves and the poor state of infrastructure. The Mara Conservancy was held up as an example of a well-run protected area, on a par with South Africa and Botswana. Concern was also raised about the proliferation of “briefcase” tour operators and it was proposed that tour operators be members of a recognised Trade Association and that their Code of Conduct be aligned to the Global Code of Ethics. There was a proposal that no new tour operator would be licenced unless they had a minimum of four vehicles, that all new vehicles be earth colours and that existing companies must have at least two vehicles until 2020. No other Public Service Vehicles (PSV) will be allowed to carry tourists into Parks and Reserves.
We spent an afternoon with Mr Graham Wallington, choosing sites for remote cameras to be used in the Wild Live broadcasts over the migration on the 18th.
Thirteen trainees graduated from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Training School in Manyani on the 13th. They reported back to work on the 21st.
Kentours held a meeting with our staff who are members on the 15th.
One of our wardens, Mr Charles Ololtele, was transferred to the County with a letter outlining the reason for his transfer and a recommendation for further disciplinary action. He shot a baboon with the intention of selling its head.
Three of our security staff attended a four-day workshop on security and intelligence gathering sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Narok.
A young elephant was found wandering alone for two days and was rescued by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) on the 6th.
We started seeing the first zebra crossing into the Triangle on the 14th. Wildebeest had started crossing Sand River a few days earlier and thousands of animals began to appear along the Bologonja River by the 15th. By the 20th we were seeing thousands of zebra enter the Triangle and the first wildebeest started crossing our section of the Mara River on the 25th. A few thousand had crossed in the Northern Serengeti a few days earlier and were concentrated near Purungat and by the end of the month there were tens o0f thousands of animals all along the river from Serena to Purungat.
We watched a brown snake eagle catch a fully grown black-necked spitting cobra on the 17th. After a one-hour stand-off the eagle suddenly took off and left the snake – both apparently unharmed.
Tourist numbers picked up considerably from the 15th and we can expect a busy season ahead of us. A quick comparison on the number of non-resident adults visiting the Triangle indicate that this year we have had 13,469 to date. A 46% increase on 2015 and up from 11,581 in 2016 – an increase of 14% on last year.
The very dry conditions and large volumes of traffic on some our roads will lead to fairly severe corrugation. There is little we can do to avoid these corrugations on the roads, as the drier it becomes the more prone roads will be to their wash-board effect – this will be compounded by the large volume and speed. We will try and ensure that vehicles maintain a speed well within the speed limit. We have also instructed our staff to clamp down on late entry and restrict the number of vehicles at sightings. The limit is five vehicles at any one time and the gates close for entry at 6.30 pm.
We had a problem with showing campsite bookings on our website – this has now been remedied and people can see their bookings again.
The Mara elephant count was completed at the end of May and the results released mid-June. It was most unfortunate that the Tanzanians did not count the Serengeti as planned, as we were unable to get a population count for the whole Mara/Serengeti ecosystem. However, we did get a count for elephant, buffalo and giraffe in the Mara ecosystem. The elephant population has increased from 1,448 in 2014 to 2,493; buffalo from 7,542 to 9,466 and giraffe from 1,619 in 2010 to 2,607.
A paper has just been published entitled:
Annual mass drownings of the Serengeti wildebeest migration influence nutrient cycling and storage in the Mara River. Subalusky A L, Dutton C L, Rosi E J and Post D M. PNAS 1614778114.
In their paper they estimate that mass drownings (>100 animals) have occurred in 13 of the past 15 years and that the average number of animals lost in any single migration is 6,250 animals – resulting in 1,100 tons of biomass entering the river every years as a result. Bones take up to seven years to decompose and soft tissue decomposes within two to ten weeks. They estimate that approximately 107 (107 ± 51) tons of Calcium, 25 (25 ± 12) tons of Nitrogen and 13 (13 ± 6) tons of Phosphorus are deposited annually and conclude that the absence of these mass drownings may fundamentally alter the river ecosystem and function.
We have allowed a camera trap to be placed on a Martial eagle nest near Ngiro-are. A pair of eagles have recently hatched a chick and we will be able to monitor it’s development and the kills that the pair bring to the nest.
We only arrested nine people for poaching and a further five for prospecting in the Triangle in June. We have started collecting wire snares and recovered a total of 403 in the month. There was remarkably little sign of poaching in many of the traditional areas and it would appear that enhanced patrols by the Serengeti rhino team, together with increased joint patrols by our teams and their TANAPA counterparts are beginning to have a major impact – not to mention the very stiff sentences now given to poachers in Tanzania.
A small, armed gang, started raiding small centres around the Mara in May. As a result, the Administration and Police have imposed a curfew on motor cycles moving around and between the affected villages between the hours of 7.00 pm and dawn.
We have begun to see wire snares and 114 were collected between the 7th and 12th. On the 7th 30 snares were collected from a poachers’ camp near Nzonzo in the Northern Serengeti – there were donkey tracks from animals carrying out the meat. The following day a patrol along the Bologonja River came across 24 snares – one topi had been butchered and one Kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) was dead in a snare. Patrols along the escarpment in the Lemai Wedge came across 60 snares over two days; one Kongoni was rescued.
Seventy-five snares were recovered by the rangers on the 14th and 15th along the escarpment in Tanzania – one zebra had been killed. The Ngiro-are rangers arrested five people for digging for minerals along the escarpment. They were taken to Lolgorien.
Fourteen wire snares were recovered on the 17th, eight in the Lemai Wedge and six across the river. Four wildebeest were caught in the six snares across the river – one was rescued. The others were found dead. The following day the Ngiro-are team recovered 110 snares along the escarpment in the Lemai Wedge.
The rangers managed to arrest one person on the night of the 19/20th, at midnight and after a whole day patrol in the Tabora B to Nzonzo area. The person was part of a gang carrying meat on donkeys, three donkeys were caught. The next day our rangers joined up with their TANAPA counterparts and arrested four people in their camp. Thy had killed one wildebeest by slashing it on the spine but also had wire snares – six were recovered and the rangers managed to rescue two animals, one other was dead.
Thirteen wire snares were recovered in the Lemai Wedge on the 21st by the Ngiro-are rangers. The next day there was a large patrol comprising six vehicles – four from the Conservancy and two from TANAPA – and they patrolled the whole day in the Northern Serengeti, they saw nothing. That evening they set an ambush near Nzonzo and watched as eleven people started hunting wildebeest with machetes at around 10.00 pm. Within minutes four wildebeest had been slashed and killed but the rangers were able to arrest three people by using the Flir cameras.
Both teams crossed the river and patrolled the Northern Serengeti with their TANAPA counterparts on the 20th – they saw nothing all day apart from one week-old poachers’ camp. Late that evening they saw three poachers but they then disappeared in the long grass. They set an ambush and later saw the same three people – they managed to arrest one of them.
Our regular patrols from Ngiro-are collected 71 snares along the escarpment – 33 on the 26th and another 38 on the 29th.
Revenue and Accounts
We continue to see a significant increase in revenue over the past years. We received more revenue in May than April – very unusual as May is traditionally our worst month. May this year was up by 72% on the same month last year (Ksh 31.4 million against Ksh 18.25 million in 2016). Barring anything untoward after the elections, we are looking at the best year ever for the Mara.
Our management accounts until the end of May 2017 show revenue of Ksh 222,443,117; a 33% increase in revenue over the same period last year and an improvement of 12% on our budget estimate for this year. Our expenditure, including direct costs and finance charges, stood at Ksh 196,422,550; a 23% increase over the previous year and a 12% increase on budget.
Repairs and maintenance
We have ordered a new digital radio system for the Triangle, this should be in place in early July. This will replace our old analogue system that has been in place for 16 years. The digital system will enable us to track our vehicles and hand held radios at all times and has other features that will make communication and control much better.
We cut all the grass tracks in preparation for the high season.
We made a new crossing between the Ngiro-are windmill and the Kishangaa camp.
We graded the roads around Oloololo and then moved on to the roads to Ngiro-are. All our major roads have now been graded.
We resurfaced parts of the road to Ngiro-are.
We rehabilitated the toilets at the Oloololo public camp site and then moved on to the toilet at the hippo pools.
We completed the plumbing at Dr Takita’s house.
One of our Land Rovers was slightly damaged by a vehicle driving into it when parked near the staff camp.
Report on focus for June
Focus for July 2017
· Attend cross-border meeting in Seronera 8-10 July;
· Burn one block;
· Install new signs;
· Install new radio system;
· Prepare for Annual Audit;
· Repair fixtures at Purungat, including water tanks and guttering;
· Work on floors at Little Governors and Kilo 2;
· Take damaged vehicle to Nairobi for repairs;
· Continue with minor road works; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.