We received 363 mm (approximately 14.5”) of rain in the first four months, of which 227.8 mm fell in April. The rains continued into May and we had one extremely heavy storm on the 5th; the rain-guage indicated 184 mm (or 7”) in one day! Other storms on the 14th and 26th flooded the Olpunyatta plains and flooded sections of our lower roads to Oloololo. It is these huge storms that do massive damage, and they come at a time when finances are extremely tight.
The Chief Executive met with senior County officials on the 7th, to discuss the financial situation and the recovery of funds due from Governor’s balloons – apparently paid directly to the County, instead of the Conservancy. We also discussed collecting lease payments and any bed-night fees; these have traditionally been paid directly to the County.
We had two visits from the Finance Committee of Narok County Assembly and then another visit from other County Assembly committees for Wildlife and Budget. These MCA visits were part of a County evaluation of the Mara Conservancy and linked to deliberations on whether the Conservancy should be given a new contract. All three committees were very positive and hopefully we will have a contract before July.
Deloitte completed the Annual Audit. We had been severely constrained by the lack of an accountant after Mr Charles Gitau left and are most grateful to Seiya Ltd and their accountant for stepping into the breach and completing the accounts and audit.
The British High Commissioner, Dr Christian Turner, visited the Mara Triangle on the 28th and 29th. He came with the Governor, Narok County, Mr Samuel Tunai and they were joined by a group of leaders from Narok County, tourism and conservation. There were discussions on management of the Masai Mara and implementing the Ten-year Management Plan. The Governor confirmed his commitment to restoring the Mara to its place as the World’s leading wildlife destination and set a time frame of three months for the implementation of the Management Plan. Dr Turner reiterated that travel advisories were not the cause for the decline in tourism – larger problems, such as insecurity were. He also made it clear that there was not a blanket advisory against Kenya – it was limited to the North Coast and Mombasa and North-Eastern Kenya only.
A paper entitled “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores. W J Ripple et al. Advancement of Science; (1 May 2015)” looks at 74 of the world’s largest herbivore species and reports that virtually all species are facing dramatic declines and that up to 60% are faced with extinction. Most of these species are in developing countries, including Kenya. We have lost over 50% of our herbivores in the past 40 years, even in our protected areas. You just have to look at the work done by Oguttu et al. Continuing wildlife population declines and range contraction in the Mara region of Kenya during 1977 – 2009. Journal of Zoology (2011); to know that the Mara is no exception. The fundamentals: overpopulation, range contraction, competition for resources and a lack of ownership are all driving these declines. What is happening to our large herbivores is just an indicator of far bigger ecological problems – destruction of habitat and the decline in numerous species that either co-exist with herbivores, or rely on them for food.
We are saddened to report the death of one of our rangers, Iroringei Singai. Mr Singai was a very quiet, conscientious ranger who had been with us for ten years.
All the staff have agreed to take another two weeks unpaid leave, we are grateful for their understanding of the situation and hope that the financial situation will improve in the coming months.
One lioness was found dead on the 30th near the Kichwa Tembo airstrip – it was most likely killed in a fight with other lions. A few days later Scar – a well-known Mara lion – was seen in the same area with fresh scars and a wound on his hind leg. He was probably responsible for killing the lioness.
One elephant was darted by the KWS/David Sheldrick Trust team, and a wire snare removed. This is the same elephant reported last month, it then disappeared for a while.
The hippo that lived in the Bagdad pond was killed by a spear and found dead on the 27th. It had not been in the pond for several days and was probably speared along Benjamin’s lugga. A pride of lions found it and fed off it for several days. A second hippo was seen with a spear in it along the Mara River.
Both cheetah females have been frequently seen with their cubs during the month. All seven cubs are thriving.
If we analyse tourism trends in the first four months of each year (January to April) since 2011, we see a 60% decline in non-resident visitors. There has been a 37% drop from the same period last year – from 9,215 to 5,838. Americans continue to be our most frequent visitors, making up 35 – 40% of all non-resident visitors. British, Indian, German and Spanish visitors each make up around 5 - 8%, as do the Chinese – except for in the high season, when last year they made up around 16% of our overseas visitors. Targeting locals has had no impact; in fact there has been a slight decline in both resident and citizen visitors, although there was a significant increase in the number of school children visiting the Triangle. Total visitor numbers decreased in the first four months from 17,267 in 2014 to 14,003 in 2015. The average value per ticket sold also reduced from Ksh 3,660 to 3,095 in the past year alone.
Our tourism sector held a guides meeting on the 27th. It was well attended and very productive. The resident guides are, on the whole, very supportive of our efforts in the Triangle and we will work together to enforce the rules and determine which tracks to open this year.
A total of 16 people were arrested for poaching and a further three were arrested on their way to hunt rhino. We had been tracking the potential rhino poachers for two months and they admitted their intention, but were released by the police for lack of evidence. We have since heard from another informer that the same group have not given up and are also looking at poaching elephant. Surely, admitting intent is sufficient to prosecute – do we have to wait for a smoking gun, or the death of a rhino before we can act? Eight of the poachers caught near Mara Bridge at the beginning of the month were each jailed for two and a half years in Kilgoris; two years for poaching and another six months for being in the country illegally.
The Ngiro-are rangers collected 21 snares on the 30th April.
Six poachers were arrested in two separate incidents on the 3rd. In the first, the Iseiya team arrested four people along the Kenya/Tanzania border near the Purungat picnic trees. They had killed three warthog and a topi and had four snares and four spears. The rangers also found a poached hippo in the same area but suspected that another group had killed it. That same morning the Ngiro-are arrested two more people at Lempise in the Lemai Wedge with 11 snares. They were on their way to set the snares when apprehended.
Two days later the Iseiya rangers arrested four more people in exactly the same area as on the 3rd. They had also been hunting warthog, had obviously arrived on the same day as the previous arrest and had already killed four warthog. They had obviously been hunting hard the previous night – three of them were asleep when our rangers found them. The fourth tried to hide in a pool of water but was found without much trouble. They had six snares and four spears.
The Iseiya rangers recovered nine snares during a patrol from Watu Tisa to Kokatende on the 15th, one impala had been killed in a snare. They found where people had vacated their camp that morning but were unable to locate the poachers.
We foiled an attempt to poach rhino in the Mara on the 18th, when we arrested three people on a reconnaissance. They admitted that their intention was to hunt rhino but they were unarmed when arrested; sadly they were released for a lack of evidence.
Three people were arrested for fish poaching downstream from Olonana on the 22nd and taken to Lolgorien.
Three people were arrested on the night of the 25th near Jiko Nane, in the Lemai Wedge. The patrol found a zebra in a snare during the day and set up an ambush that night. Five people came in to check their snares – two managed to escape. Nine snares were recovered.
Revenue and Accounts
We finally have a set of audited accounts for the financial year 2013/14. Our gross revenue dropped by 8%, from Ksh 192.4 million to Ksh 177.1 million but we only managed to reduce recurrent expenditure by 3%, from 196.9 million to 190.9 million resulting in two years of successive losses. Staff costs continue to cripple us – they were up by 14.5% - and took up 50.1% of our expenditure. Sadly the situation in 2014/15 has only got worse, with ever accelerating declines in tourist revenue. This state of affairs is obviously unsustainable and we can only be thankful that we had set aside some reserves – these are now exhausted.
Our April revenue was lower than at any time in recent years. Our share of revenue, at US$ 35,000 and Ksh 1.5 million only covered half our salaries – let alone any other expenses. Despite this, we are constantly under pressure to grant free entry, or concessionary rates. It appears no one realises that it actually costs money to manage a protected area.
The Kenya Shilling has continued to devalue and is now trading at Ksh 96 : 1 US$.
We repaired the tractor and trailer hitches on our large tractor, we also repaired one of the hydraulic rams on the backhoe/loader. The axle then snapped on our big trailer and has to be replaced
We concentrated on repairing the lower road to Oloololo Gate, the rain and heavy traffic ensured that we were kept busy for the whole month. Balloon vehicles continue to do a disproportionate amount of damage – not only to the roads, but to some of the tracks. The road to Ngiro-are along the escarpment has also been severely damaged and will take a great deal to repair once the rains subside.
We used the grader on a few sections of the major roads, to try and maintain their shape and fill in minor ruts and potholes.
Report on focus for May
Focus for June 2015
· Hold Board meeting on the 5th;
· Hold Lodge Managers’ meeting on the 6th;
· Work on new agreement with the County;
· Repair trailer axle; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.