August 2016

General

August was again exceptionally dry – only three days of light rain that did nothing to the grass. 

 

We are at > 99,750 fans on the Mara Conservancy facebook site.  Congratulations to David Aruasa, Asuka and the team that post so many interesting things on this site.  Well done!

 

The Chief Executive met with Mr Alex Lemarkoko, Commandant of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) on the 9th to discuss the Nyakweri forest and then introduced him to the Olorien Committee to work on a way forward in protecting the forest.  The Commandant had an excellent meeting with the committee and also stopped the issuance of all permits in Kilgoris.  Hopefully these measures, together with the convictions, will help in protecting the Olorien portion of the Nyakweri forest.  The elders should be congratulated for taking the initiative in protecting this forest.  KFS have since moved into the Nyakweri forest and destroyed hundreds of bags of charcoal, impounded lorries carrying charcoal and logs, and also impounded cars, motorcycles, bicycles and power saws.

 

Deloitte completed their Annual Audit for 2015/16 and we should have a report out in time for the next Board meeting on the 16th September.

 

We had a large advance party visit the Triangle on the 19th to check on security and arrangements for the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit at the end of the month.  The team included the Japanese Ambassador, several senior security personnel and senior staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Internal Security.  That same evening the Prime Minister cancelled his trip to the Mara because of pressing issues in Japan. 

 

The Chief Executive met with Mr Graham Wallington on the 28th to discuss live-streaming videos from the Mara Triangle.  They were here for three days to test the feasibility and we spent some time with him and his team to check on the feasibility of filming lions at night using infrared equipment – there is still a lot to be done before this will be practical.  Graham will return in September to do a trial run and he has agreed to live-stream onto our facebook site.

 

Mr John Mahama, the President of Ghana, visited the Triangle on the 29th.  We were informed of the visit late Sunday the 28th and I would like to thank Mara Serena management and our staff for making the visit a resounding success, despite the short notice.  The Cabinet Secretaries for Environment and Energy, the Narok Governor and Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service also visited that day.

 

We received a donation of a Suzuki Maruti from Suzuki Japan and CMC Kenya.  It will be formally handed over on the 1st September.

Research

Chris Dutton and Amanda Subalusky completed their research and left on the 21st.  They will probably return next June.

 

Femke Broekhuis and Nic Elliot spent four days in the Conservancy conducting their respective research projects on cheetah and lion in the Mara ecosystem.

Staff

Mr Joseph Suntu lost his son;  he was a ranger with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and was killed while on duty – our commiserations to him and his family.

 

Mr Michael Kortom completed his course in Plant Operations in Heavy Equipment at the Institute of Applied Technology on the 4th August.  He had an excellent report – as have all our trainees at this institute.  They do us proud.

 

Mr Josea Cheryuiot also completed his Certificate course at the Kenya Wildlife Training Institute (KWSTI) in Naivasha. 

 

Ranger Paul Takule reported drunk on duty on the 12th and then absconded.  A letter was written to Narok County (he was seconded from the County) with a recommendation for disciplinary action.

 

Two people were returned to the Conservancy from the County:  Assistant Warden Daniel Tunai was posted to Oloololo and Sergeant Daniel Liaram Tunai was posted to Ngiro-are.

Wildlife

We had very large concentrations of wildebeest and zebra in the Triangle throughout the month – mainly around the salt-lick and in the south-western portion of the Conservancy at the beginning of the month.  Towards the end of the month the animals dispersed – covering almost the whole Triangle – we are fast running out of surface water and it will be interesting to see what happens next.  This has to be the largest, sustained concentration we have had for many years. 

 

The Mara Lion Project collared a young male lion that was born on Ol Kinyei a few months ago, it ended up in the Triangle on the 3rd.  It then moved back to Paradise Plain on the Narok portion of the Reserve.  These young males roam over large areas once they leave the pride – single males find it extremely difficult to establish a territory and often disappear.  It will be interesting to see what happens to this youngster.

 

The three big males killed seven lion cubs from the Oloololo ride at the beginning of the month.  One young male was found with a wire snare around it’s neck at the salt-lick on the 18th.  Dr Limo came to treat it but it disappeared into the bulrushes and could not be found.  It was seen again a week later but again we were unable to treat it.  It was seen again on the 29th and had removed the snare – there is just a small wound remaining, which will not require treatment. 

 

Balloon pilots reported an elephant skull on the 11th, tusks intact, in the swamp near River Camp.  The tusks were retrieved.

Tourism

There was a significant increase in tourist numbers in August – with a corresponding increase in the number of issues – many of them related to drivers trying to bypass paying Park Fees.  The most common scam was to pay for two nights, when in fact clients were staying for three or more nights;  they then hoped to leave without being detected.  In one case a driver paid for his clients for one night and they were staying six nights.  The driver then tried to bribe Warden A Bett – with an offer to share the difference.  He refused, made the clients pay the full fees and fined the driver – maybe the driver should have been banned as well.  We had camps based outside the Reserve going to Musiara, paying, leaving the gate without entering the Reserve and then coming round to Oloololo Gate with “Narok tickets”. 

 

Chinese tourists seemed to form the bulk of visitors in some lodges such as Keekorok – their numbers started reducing towards the end of August.  A major problem for us in the Triangle was the number of visitors from Narok, with valid tickets, who crossed over onto our side of the Reserve.  In many cases they brought across the indiscipline for which the Narok portion of the Reserve is infamous, and ruined the experience for Triangle clients.  It is an issue that needs to be resolved. 

 

We had 3,890 school children visit the Triangle in July – by far the most in any one month and more than double for July last year.  Fridays were particularly busy and we could have up to 10 large school busses in the Triangle on a given day.  Such large groups stretched our resources – particularly toilets – to the limit and we started getting complaints.

Security

We made 52 arrests in August;  33 of them for illegal charcoal burning and logging and nineteen for poaching.  We recovered 3,235 wire snares – a record by a long way.  Nearly all the poaching was concentrated along the escarpment between Kinyangaga and Lemai – making it very difficult for our rangers to catch the poachers – because of the terrain, steep and rocky (the wa kuria were far more agile than our rangers, weighted down with equipment and guns), but also because the poachers sat on top and were able to observe our movements;  setting off an alarm that went along the whole length of the escarpment whenever the rangers were seen.

 

In all 327 animals were found in snares, plus two in pits (115 rescued, 36 dead + 4 zebra, I giraffe and 1 impala, 171 butchered + 1 zebra).  The ratio of animals caught to snares found was almost exactly 1:10 – this seems to be the long-term average and it is interesting to note how consistent this ratio has been over the years.  The rangers gave up counting the butchered carcasses they found and we only tried to relate those carcasses that had been taken from current snare lines.  It is difficult to calculate the number of animals killed and butchered in the Lemai Wedge, but if we work on an average of 300 snares set on any given day – and one in every ten snares catching an animal we can extrapolate and estimate that 900 -1,000 animals are potentially caught and butchered in a month during the migration;  in one small corner of the Serengeti.  If this is the case, we are only finding around 30% of the animals snared.  However, there is absolutely no doubt that taking 3,200 snares out of commission has a major impact and by October we will be seeing fewer manufactured (from the steel belting in tyres) snares and more made of cable, fencing wire and nylon rope.  Another interesting figure – four snares were found in the Triangle, 0.125% of the total;  the remaining 99.875% were in the Lemai Wedge portion of the Serengeti.

 

Thirty-six snares were recovered between the 31st July and 2nd August.  Six wildebeest were found dead in snares, as was one zebra;  six animals had been butchered and the meat taken.  Large herds of wildebeest were climbing up the escarpment below Kinyangaga and the poachers were setting snares on the steep slopes – an ambush set on the night of the 2nd saw a lot of poacher activity above them but were unable to apprehend anyone.

 

A total of 326 wire snares were collected on the 3rd and 4th – all in the Lemai Wedge, along the escarpment from Kinyangaga ranger post to Kokamange.  Four animals were rescued, five were dead in snares and three had been butchered.  The Ngiro-are rangers set an ambush on the night of the 3rd along the Masanga poachers route and managed to arrest a group of four people who had hunted and were on their way home – they were each carrying wildebeest meat and had a total of 12 snares (included in the total above).

 

A second operation in the Olorien portion of the Nyakweri forest conducted by the police, administration and Conservancy, on the 5th and 6th resulted in the arrest of 33 people and the impounding of:  one lorry with 70 bags of charcoal and a further 180 bags of charcoal ready for collection;  four motor cycles, numerous bicycles and two power saws.  There were a number of incomplete charcoal kilns – when the police and rangers returned late evening of the 6th to collect the charcoal as exhibits they found people who had escaped during the day back at their kilns (3 of the 33 were arrested then).  The lorry that had been impounded had a permit to collect charcoal from Sitoka – miles away – issued by the Forest Office in Kilgoris.  They also found people with fake permits, incomplete permits and others that had been issued by the same office, but without the County stamp.  One landowner, ole Kakui, had a permit to clear his land – a number of people who had been burning charcoal and logging in the Nyakweri forest rushed onto Kakui’s plot – knowing that he had a permit.  The suspects were charged in Court and fined Ksh 100,000 (US$ 1,000) each, or jailed for one year.

 

Members of WWF joined us for two nights, the 8th and 9th, to see our progress in using the Flir thermal imaging camera, donated by WWF and Google.  We were joined by Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) rangers from Lemai on both nights and on the first night we managed to arrest one person but saw about 30 people – the following day our Ngiro-are rangers joined up with their Tanzanian counterparts and collected 246 snares;  a further 23 snares had been collected the previous day while the teams were recceing a place to set the ambush.  Seven poachers were arrested the second night – we were able to see eight people through the Flir and were able to direct our rangers into position in a wooded watercourse with tall grass.  Thirty-one wire snares were collected and one wildebeest was being butchered.  This camera is beginning to prove invaluable in our night work and the ability of our operators to distinguish people at a large distance is nothing short of remarkable.  Once we can improve on the communication between the operators and the ranger teams we can only hope to improve on our successes.

 

A total of 160 snares were collected along the escarpment and around Miungu between the 10th and 13th – 18 wildebeest were rescued;  15 wildebeest, one giraffe, two zebra and one impala were found dead in the snares;  and three animals were butchered.  The teams went on three night patrols and saw several poachers but were unable to arrest anyone.

 

A Total of 630 snares were collected on the 15th, 16th and 17th – 417 on the 17th alone.  They were all along the escarpment between Kinyangaga and Lugga ya Ngiri in Tanzania.  Twenty wildebeest were rescued, thirty-seven had been butchered and eight were dead in the snares.

 

The Ngiro-are team left early on the 18th and managed to arrest one, of two people who were checking their snares.  They collected eight snares – one wildebeest was dead in a snare and the rangers managed to rescue three.  On the same day the Iseiya rangers also managed to arrest one person along the escarpment, again he was one of two people who had snared a wildebeest on the escarpment.  They rushed down to butcher it and within minutes had cut it in half and decapitated it.  The rangers found eight snares and managed to rescue five animals.

 

Our teams joined TANAPA rangers and set an ambush on the night of 19th in Lempise, in the Lemai Wedge.  The TANAPA rangers immediately came across some poachers – who escaped.  Three other groups of two poachers each came into the extended ambush site, one person knocked over a ranger when he was being apprehended and escaped.  One other person was caught by the same ranger a while later – he was carrying half a wildebeest.  The following day three patrol teams:  Iseiya, Ngiro-are and TANAPA patrolled the escarpment and collected 390 snares.  Eleven wildebeest were rescued and 40 had been butchered.

 

Three hundred and forty-one snares were collected between the 21st and 23rd – five of them near Maji ya Bett – the rest along the escarpment in Tanzania.  Eleven wildebeest and one zebra were rescued and at least 20 animals had been butchered.  Soon after they returned from patrol the Iseiya team were informed that someone had killed a zebra near Olopikidongoe – between the Triangle and Lolgorien.  They joined forces with rangers from Oloololo and managed to arrest the person with zebra meat and skin at around 8.00 pm.  They were informed of another poached zebra and found it covered with branches.  They raided a suspect’s house but were unable to find any incriminating evidence.  One of the local leaders tried to intervene on behalf of the suspects – saying they were his employees, but the rangers took the first suspect (the one with meat) to Lolgorien for prosecution.

 

Two patrols left at 3.00 am on the 24th and managed to arrest one person near Lugga ya Ngiri in the Lemai Wedge.  The rangers recovered 18 snares and rescued 11 wildebeest.  The following day the rangers recovered 10 snares and rescued one animal.

 

The road team joined up with our rangers to patrol along the escarpment from Kinyangaga to Lugga ya Ngiri in the Lemai Wedge on the 26th.  They recovered 464 snares in total – a record for one day.  Nine animals were rescued, over 20 had been butchered and one was found dead in a snare.

 

The rangers patrolled the traditional snaring areas around Watu Kumi and Daraja Mbili on the 27th and found nothing – not even any sign of poaching.  They then moved to Nyakita Pembe – another notorious area for poaching and only found three snares – two wildebeest were found dead in the snares.

 

The Iseiya rangers crossed the River at Kogatende on the 30th and patrolled towards Machwechwe.  They came across five poachers and managed to arrest two.  The poachers in this area were not using snares – they dig pits, cover the mouth with grass and then kill animals that fall into these pits – two wildebeest had been caught.  The Ngiro-are rangers patrolled along the escarpment from Kinyangaga and collected 511 snares – a new record for one day.  Sixteen wildebeest were rescued and up to 40 animals had been butchered.

 

The Ngiro-are rangers recovered 30 snares and rescued five wildebeest early in the morning of the 31st.  They saw two groups of three poachers but were unable to apprehend anyone.

Revenue and Accounts

Revenue collected in July was almost exactly double the amount collected in June and 50% more than the July 2015 collection, a strong indication of the recovery in tourism.  August is usually full, so we can’t expect such a significant increase in revenue.  However, it will be interesting to see whether the high season can be sustained through September – last year it started in the middle of July but tailed off at the beginning of September.

Repairs and maintenance

  • The pit latrines at Purungat are almost complete and should be operational by mid September.
  • We completed installing a new water tank at Iseiya and then painted all the rainwater tanks at Iseiya.  It will be interesting to see whether the paint holds.
  • We painted the buildings and water tanks at Purungat.
  • We touched up sections of the major roads that were being damaged by the high volume of traffic – some of the busiest roads were becoming corrugated.  We can only skim the corrugations but there will be no improvement until the onset of the rains and the roads are able to absorb moisture.  We also opened up cut-off drains and cleared culverts.
  • We have had constant problems with water at Oloololo Gate – we finally found a major leak in the suction pipe and replaced the pipe on the 19th. 

Report on focus for August

 

Focus for September 2016

·       Receive Suzuki;

·       Receive Audit report;

·       Hold Board meeting on the 16th;

·       Test live-streaming of videos from the Triangle;

·       Continue opening up drains and culverts;

·       Complete toilet at Purungat;

·       Start work at Ngiro-are;

·       Hold 15 year celebration;

·       Survey Reserve boundary.