The dry weather, interspersed with showers, continued through to the middle of October. We then had more sustained and heavy rain from around the 20th. Some of the storms were very heavy and one in particular washed away sections of the escarpment near Kinyangaga, bringing down huge boulders.
A scheduled meeting to work on a new Management Agreement was postponed at the last minute and is yet to be re-scheduled.
Narok County are planning an Investors’ Forum for early December, this will be held at Mara Serena. This will give us a good opportunity to showcase the Triangle to some influential and wealthy people who are looking to invest in Narok. We have already been working with the County in developing promotional material. We hosted a delegation of senior staff from Narok on the 24th who were on a familiarisation tour of the Mara before the Forum.
We held a Warden’s meeting on the 23rd to discuss staffing issues and allowances. We continue to lose key staff members to the County and part of the meeting was to determine the reason and see if there is any way we could rectify it. The main reasons for the attrition seemed to be:
- County staff are receiving around 25% less basic salary now that they are being paid directly by the County, compared to when the Conservancy was paying them;
- We have cut back on allowances and incentives, making the Conservancy a less attractive place to work;
- Some of the older staff members are tired and just want to be closer to home;
- People working at the County can spend more time at home. This enables them to conduct their own affairs, while receiving a salary.
We agreed to address the disparity in salaries and reinstate some of the allowances.
We slaughtered a bull for the staff on the 31st to celebrate a record month for arrests, but also to thank the staff for their hard work and commitment throughout the year.
The crossings continued well into October, with good numbers of wildebeest and zebra crossing into the Triangle, but we also had several herds of topi and Thompson’s gazelle crossing – the gazelle making a tasty treat for crocodiles. The wildebeest were constantly moving but by the middle of the month there were good concentrations between the Salt-lick and Ngiro-are. These herds remained there until the onset of the rains and then animals started following the storms – most of the rain in the first few days was concentrated in the Triangle and large herds moved back into the Triangle for a while, until the storms moved into Tanzania. We had thought that this year we would get away without any major mortalities on the river; sadly this was not to be and an estimated > 4,000 animals died when they tried to cross just upstream from the Serena lunch site from the 27th.
One giraffe had a snare removed by Dr Limo from KWS/the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Dr Mijele darted an elephant to take DNA samples on the 31st.
The good weather, numerous crossings and excellent predator sightings undoubtedly led to a better October than originally anticipated. However, the prospect of El Niño has led to cancellations in November. One large group of over 70 people for three days have just cancelled because of concerns about exceptional rain. No doubt other groups will hold off as well.
We continue to have issues with people trying to avoid paying Park fees. The new roads down the escarpment, especially the one from Mara West/Angama, pose a real problem for us and we have had several cases of vehicles using this road to by-pass the gate. In some cases tickets have lapsed, with the excuse that drivers are “taking clients to the Kichwa airstrip” on an extended game drive. The rule is everyone must have a VALID ticket. The Chief Executive arranged to meet with the County Executive member for tourism on the 29th to visit the roads but the meeting was postponed at the last minute.
We smashed the record for arrests in one month. A total of 83 people were arrested this month alone – 81 in Tanzania and two in Kenya. The two in Kenya were arrested with a G3 automatic rifle and 19 rounds of ammunition. This brings our total arrests to 2,781 since June 2001 – an average of 198 each year. This year alone we have arrested 274 people for poaching and related offenses. Congratulations to all our staff for their commitment and dedication.
Few people remember the lawlessness and insecurity in this region when we started in 2001 – the hundreds of cattle that were being stolen each year, the poaching that extended right up to the Serena fence and all along the river. There is probably no better indicator of our success than the tourism boom in the northern Serengeti – there was not a single camp in the Lemai Wedge, or Na ma Lumbwa/Wogga Kuria/Kogatende areas of the Serengeti – because of insecurity. We did not see a single lion or buffalo in the Lemai Wedge for the first five years of the Conservancy. This year there were 36 camps in the northern Serengeti, five of them permanent. Lion sightings in the Lemai Wedge are now probably as good as anywhere in the World. The Kogatende airstrip has up to 25 flights a day in the high season, when a few years ago the airstrip was hardly serviceable. The Mara Conservancy, our rangers and staff must take much of the credit – the rangers, for the huge impact they have had on poaching and insecurity, but also our mechanics; they are responsible for keeping many of the TANAPA vehicles on the road (two major overhauls this month alone). Maybe one day their contribution will be recognised. Let us not forget that this would not have been possible without the amazing collaboration, trust and support that we have received from TANAPA staff in the Serengeti.
In October, we also recovered 855 wire snares, rescued around 40 animals and found where 300 - 400 had been slaughtered and butchered. Many of these animals in remote areas where the people use machetes to slash the spines of animals in watercourses with steep banks. These remote, seldom patrolled, areas are reminiscent of the Lemai Wedge and much of the Mara Triangle 14 years ago – semi-permanent poachers’ camps with 30 -50 carcasses strewn around.
Eleven snares were collected on the 2nd and then on the 3rd two people were arrested and 64 snares collected. The Ngiro-are team crossed the river on the 4th and patrolled near Mlima Hotel. They arrested three people during the day and then six more that night; no snares were recovered, as this is an area the poachers hunt using machetes. The following night the same team arrested four more people near Machechwe.
The Iseiya team recovered five snares and rescued one wildebeest near Kokamange on the 6th and the Ngiro-are rangers found another 29 snares near Maji ya Bett – they rescued two wildebeest and found where four had been butchered. The next day both teams joined up to patrol around Olaro Nyioke; they recovered 176 snares, arrested one person and found where numerous animals had been butchered. That same night the Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush at Lugga ya Ngiri and arrested two people carrying the meat from one wildebeest.
The arrests continued and on the 9th two people were arrested by a joint patrol near Nyakita Pembe, at a place called Kichwa Mia Tatu, they were in the process of butchering a wildebeest and 21 snares were recovered.
That night, at around 10.00 pm, we had a success in arresting two people and recovering a G3 rifle with 19 rounds of ammunition. These weapons are standard issue to most of the armed forces in Kenya and are commonly used by elephant poachers. The two people were trying to sell the weapon and we had one of our staff pose as a buyer; he was joined by other rangers from Oloololo Gate and Ol Kurruk and they were reinforced by a Kenya Wildlife Service officer.
On the morning of the 10th the Ngiro-are rangers left at 3.00 am and managed to arrest three people on the Kegonga poachers’ route – as they were returning after a night of hunting. They continued the patrol and managed to arrest two more people, part of a much larger group, near Olaro Nyioke. The Iseiya team patrolled around Nyakita Pembe and found seven snares, they rescued one animal and found three more dead in the snares. That afternoon the teams joined forces and patrolled near Lempise, they arrested two people out an estimated group of 30 just after dark. They found two snares and an impala dead in one of them.
Twenty-four snares were recovered near the Ngiro-are windmill on the 12th. One animal was rescued and several had been butchered. The following day both teams patrolled across the Mara River. They saw no recent signs of poaching near Ngira, a notorious area for poaching, and then moved to Machechwe; where they were joined by our TANAPA counterparts. They arrested one, of three people during the day and then set an ambush that night. That night they arrested four more people, one of them claiming to be 12 years old. Our rangers reported a large number of people hunting; they were driving animals into a steep watercourse and slashing them with machetes. One zebra had been killed with two deep cuts, one on the spine and the other on the neck. The patrol returned at 2.00 am.
The patrols joined forces and recovered a total of 228 snares on the 14th, all in the Lemai Wedge and most of them close to the western boundary – 15 animals were rescued. The wildebeest are concentrated in this area and people can set their snares within site of their homes. They can see when an animal is caught and then come in to kill and butcher it. One person was arrested doing just that, he had seen the animals as it was caught and was arrested as he was carrying out the meat. That evening the Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush and arrested one more person carrying meat up the escarpment on the Kigonga route at 7.00 pm – he was carrying three snares.
Our patrols concentrated in the northern Serengeti and Lemai Wedge, between Ngira and Machechwe and around Lempise, for four days between the 15th and 18th – what they found was shocking. In those four days a total of 38 people were arrested, many of them based in semi-permanent camps. At least six large poachers’ camps were found; some had between 20 and 60 wildebeest carcasses – possibly a total of 200 animals had been butchered. Very few snares were recovered in the northern Serengeti – most of the animals had been killed with machetes. A total of 58 snares were recovered – 41 of them in the Lemai Wedge, four wildebeest were rescued.
Our patrols concentrated in the Lemai Wedge on the 19th and 20th; focusing on the western sector between the escarpment and Miungu. They managed to recover 111 snares, 13 animals were rescued and a further nine had been butchered. Three people were arrested in late patrols between the Masanga and Kigonga routes – the first was arrested at dusk as he was carrying meat back up the escarpment. The other two were arrested an hour later as they entered the park.
The rangers returned to the northern Serengeti on the 21st and 22nd and joined forces with our TANAPA counterparts. They arrested six more people; one on the 21st as he was entering the Park; five more the following morning near a place called Mbali Mbali, caught as they were hunting wildebeest with machetes. The rangers recovered a further 21 snares.
We continued to collect snares and managed to get a further 95 between the 24th and 30th – all of them in the Lemai Wedge, around Nyakita Pembe, Maji ya Bett and Limana. One animal was rescued, one zebra died and at least three had been butchered.
A robbery was reported from Karen Blixen Camp in Mara North on the 30th, our rangers assisted in following-up and chased one of the thieves, he managed to escape but most of the items were recovered. The suspect is known and part of the gang that has been robbing camps along the escarpment.
Revenue and Accounts
September was the first month this year in which received more revenue than the corresponding month last year; most of it because of the exchange rate changes, although there were 680 more paying visitors than last year. It will be interesting to see whether we have reached the bottom of the slump and if things will start improving. However, our financial situation remains dire.
We should remember that we do all the work itemised in this report, including working well into the Serengeti on a fraction of the budget for far smaller operations elsewhere in Kenya. We struggle extremely hard to meet our financial obligations and yet few people see fit to support the Conservancy. There is not a single day when we are not asked to make concessions, give free Park entrance or spend time following-up on people trying to defraud us, or trying to enter the Reserve without paying. These attitudes; of entitlement, and that it does not cost to protect wildlife are behind the degradation any many of our Parks and Reserves. Entitlement: to build camps and lodges wherever one pleases, or to graze livestock in protected areas. It does not cost to manage a protected area: lodge owners not paying their dues, or people trying to gain free entry.
Repairs and maintenance
We cleaned out the small water pit at Purungat in anticipation of the rains. It has since been filled in the first few storms of the season.
We graded an access road for Skyship and continued cleaning out as many drains as possible. Cleaning drains is very tough on tyres and we had to purchase two more tyres this month. We also had to replace all the bearings on the fan housing.
We purchased new signs and will install them in November.
We repaired all the tentage and canvas covers for all our vehicles – some of the staff tents had been badly damaged by rats. We also repaired the shade netting at the Hippo Pools.
We replaced the hinges and pins on our large trailer, they had been badly worn by constant wear.
The new classroom at Partikilat was officially opened on the 23rd, M/s Aruasa and Ngang’a represented the Conservancy. A regular client to the Triangle donated US$ 350 for tree seedlings that will be planted around the school.
The switch on our Nairobi office computer broke and needs to be replaced. There are no spares in the country and we were informed that it would take three weeks to replace. All the accounts are on this computer and we were aiming to have our annual audit start in early November so we purchased a new machine and migrated all the data from the old to the new machine on the 31st.
Report on focus for October
Focus for November 2015
· Install new signs;
· Start annual audit;
· Work on Management Agreement and Legislation;
· Murram road to Skyship, weather permitting;
· Repair office computer;
· Plant trees at Partikilat; and
· Survey Reserve boundary.