The rains continued through the first week of March, with some heavy storms and prolonged showers. The Mara River flooded for a few hours on the third – rising very quickly before subsiding just as quickly. The remainder of the month was dry, although one or two storms in the last few days probably herald the onset of the long rains. The prognosis for Eastern Kenya is for lower than average rainfall – not a good sign, given that we have had a series of droughts in that region. Western Kenya can expect average to above average rainfall.
Sixteen Councillors: including the Chairman and Committee Chairmen, from Trans Mara County Council visited on the 9th and 10th. We held a meeting with the Councillors – informed them of some of the issues affecting the Triangle and discussed the importance of surveying the boundary and the potential increase in insecurity, resulting from the increased value for ivory and rhino horn and the proliferation of illegal firearms in the region.
Dr Bernard Kaaria, the Assistant Director and Head of Planning and Environmental Compliance and Dr Erustus Kanga, both with the Kenya Wildlife Service, visited the Conservancy on the 19th at the request of the National Environment Monitoring Authority (NEMA), to report on the proposed Cobra Corner lodge site. They were joined by other KWS officers; the proponent, Dr Adri Hilligers; the District Environment Officer and a consultant acting on behalf of the proponent. A visit was made to the proposed site and we are anticipating a report from the KWS team on the suitability of the site for a 54 bed lodge.
The cheetah with three cubs disappeared on the night of the second; the following morning her three cubs were found calling and looking for their mother. We observed the cubs all day, on the third, whilst at the same time searching for their mother. By late evening there was no sign of the mother and so we decided to rescue the cubs – they were all captured and we are raising them. There should be no problem in releasing them once they become adult – that is if we can keep them until adulthood. We believe that lions probably killed their mother – she was last seen hunting in the heart of the Mugoro pride territory.
There has been a great deal of pressure from Masai morans (warriors) wishing to kill lions. The morans have joined their manyattas, the last stage before graduation to junior elders scheduled for April/May and this is their last chance (I understand that the graduation may be delayed until August – to allow the warriors time to kill a lion or lions). Four big lions have been based along the escarpment – they are an obvious, and easy target – In the past, the morans have sat on the escarpment and watched for vehicle concentrations, a sure sign of a predator. They then wait until the last vehicle has left and rush down the escarpment to kill the lion.
One elephant was found dead along “Izabella’s Lugga” on the 14th – there were no apparent wounds and we determined that she died of natural causes. We have noted a marked change in elephant behaviour along the Tanzanian border – the herds are clumped closely together, and they run at the slightest noise – surely an indication of the increase in poaching. One of our collared elephant “Heritage” – a large male – has recently moved into the community area near Kawai. This places him at great risk.
A leopard with small cubs has been seen near Sankuria. This is the third that we know of in the Triangle; the other two are near Purungat and Little Governors. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) released two leopard that had been caught killing livestock. The first one was released near the Salt-lick and the second one close to Mara Serena.
Dr Dominic Mijele checked on the cheetah cubs and then removed a wire snare from a large male giraffe on the 31st. The snare was made of high voltage electricity wire, the first time we have encountered such wire in the Conservancy.
Chris Dutton made a presentation to Association of American Geographers in New York on his research of the Mara River. Surprisingly, Chris found that the highest sediment loads were not in the upper river catchment – the Mau, where deforestation is greatest - but between Emarti and the Upper Mara Bridge, and from the Talek River. Hippo faeces accounted for between 3-11% of the total suspended sediments in the river – as one would expect, faecal concentrations were highest when water levels dropped.
Mr Charles Saruni, Caroline (Wachira) Saruni’s husband, was badly injured in a family dispute. Caroline is the Acting Administrator in the Mara. We have switched Caroline with Margaret Wangui in Nairobi so that she can be close to her husband as he recovers.
We recorded some of the lowest occupancy rates in years for the month of February – down by at least 20% on the previous two years. This trend will probably continue until the high season. We were expecting this; agents basically wrote off Kenya for 2012. They were anticipating the elections in 2012 and are concerned about a repeat of the post election violence in 2008. They are also concerned about possible terrorist attacks. In some respects the delay in elections until 4th March 2013 – the date currently set for the elections – will prolong uncertainty and is bound to have a negative impact on tourism; a cornerstone to Kenya’s economy. Not only has 2012 been written off but now the first half of 2013 will be impacted as tour operators wait for the election outcome. In my opinion, the sooner the elections are held, and people can get on with their lives, the better.
We arrested a total of 30 poachers in March. This brings the total arrests to 1,824. Six of the poachers were arrested in Kenya – the rest were caught in Tanzania. There has been a marked improvement in the number of elephant killed in Trans Mara since we arrested six people in February. However, six elephant were speared in the Lemek and Maji Moto areas of Narok. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has mounted an operation to deal with the poaching menace and the combined efforts, between the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) and KWS, have already yielded some good success – some as far afield as Maralal – well North of Nairobi. Well done MEP and KWS.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested three poachers on the night of the 7th as they entered the Lemai Wedge to hunt with dogs.
Three elephant were shot and killed in the Lemai Wedge in the first week of March – we had several meetings with our Tanzanian counterparts on strategy and increasing joint operations.
The Iseiya rangers arrested three people on the 11th between Saiyari and Wagakuria in the northern Serengeti. The three had killed two zebra and had set 20 wire snares – all the snares were recovered.
The Ngiro-are rangers arrested four, of nine, poachers on the 15th near Olaro Nyoike in the Lemai Wedge. They were possibly on their way to hunt warthog with dogs and spears, but there were also concerns that part of the group had guns and that their real intention was to hunt elephant.
The Iseiya rangers joined up with their counterparts from Tabora B in the Serengeti and arrested two people on the 18th; three others escaped. The poachers had killed three Thompson’s gazelle and a warthog. The patrol also came across a poached elephant near an area called Nyamburi in the Serengeti; the elephant had been dead about a week.
Our road team reported seeing human tracks near an area we call Nyati One: between Mara Serena and Ngiro-are, on the morning of the 20th. The rangers and dog team immediately investigated and arrested six people. Morani, one of our dogs, picked up the scent and went straight to the poachers camp. They had arrived that night, at 1.00 am, and said that they were on their way to hunt warthog. It would appear, from the spears, that they were probably on their way to hunt hippo. Four spears and assorted knives were recovered.
That night, at 11.30 pm, the Ngiro-are rangers arrested one person in the Lemai Wedge. He was part of a larger gang that were hunting gazelle with torches. The following night the same team arrested two more people at midnight in the same area – an area we call Sampura. There are large concentrations of wildlife in this particular area and it is a choice hunting area for poachers at present.
The TANAPA rangers saw a group of six poachers on the 22nd and called our rangers from Ngiro-are for assistance. All six were arrested; they were on their way into the Lemai Wedge to hunt warthog. That night our Iseiya rangers joined forces with TANAPA rangers from Tabora B and Machwechwe and managed to catch two more people after an all-night ambush, at 4.45 am. The poachers had killed one impala.
The Iseiya team saw three poachers near Mlima Hotel on the 25th. They managed to arrest one person, the other two swam across the river and escaped.
Revenue and Accounts
Our income up to the end of February 2012 was up by 17% on our budget and expenditure was down by 8%. This places us in a good position to go into the low season. February occupancy rates were already 20% down on the previous year and we can expect the trend to continue through May and June.
We completed the main buildings at our Little Governors station. We still have to construct two toilets, one for the staff and one for visitors.
We patched up sections of the main road to Purungat, heavy supply vehicles are causing a lot of damage to our roads and this will be compounded by the construction work taking place at Mara Serena, especially when the rains break in April.
We completed work on damaged sections of the road to Ngiro-are and installed four temporary drifts – these will need to be concreted in future.
We resealed the manhole covers on the staff septic tank.
Report on focus for March
Focus for April 2012
· Start survey of boundary;
· Complete toilets and Kitchen at Little Governors;
· Purchase tyres for grader and prepare equipment for dry season;
· Order mobile cattle enclosures for holding cattle impounded for illegal grazing; and
· Trial spray against invasive weeds: Parthenium and Datura spp.