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February 2019

General

By the middle of the month the Mara River was lower than it has ever been – each year for the past several years we have said the same.  This year it is definitely the case, not only is there virtually no flow, the water is a dark green and heavily polluted with organic matter, largely hippo faeces.  Some intermittent rain from the 18thimproved the situation very slightly. 

 

We held a Board meeting on the 8th.  The Board approved looking for new office space in the Lavington area and we looked at offices belonging to Mr Aasif Karim, excellent space but on the expensive side.  The offices would only be affordable if we get the contract for the main Reserve. The Board has asked management to provide a proposal on leasing out three seasonal campsites for 2020.  We are considering the three sites in the western corner of the Triangle and they would only be available between mid-June to the beginning of November.

 

Angama have very kindly offered to improve and manage our facilities at the hippo pool and we will work with them on a design that fits in with the environment. Angama, through their Trust, are great supporters and they already fund our rhino monitoring team and pay compensation for livestock killed by predators.

 

A team from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) visited Oloololo Gate on the 22nd, to see our housing, solar system and general care of the establishment.  

 

Mr Eric Becker visited us from the 24thto 26thand managed to repair one of our Flircameras, he took the other one for repair.  He has said that Flirand WWF will try and establish a maintenance system in Kenya, so that we are not so reliant on his expertise.

 

The Chief Executive met with Governor Tunai on the 9thand again  on the 23rd, to discuss progress on management of the Main Reserve.  We agreed that there was a need to capitalise on a short window of opportunity to start during the low season.  In the meantime the County have offered a short-term consultancy for the Chief Executive to provide management advice on management.

Research

We asked Dr Amanda Subalusky and Chris Dutton to give us an assessment of the low river flows and possible consequences.  The very kindly wrote a brief report and the main points of interest included:

·       River flows peak in December and again in April/May, corresponding with the main rainfall seasons;

·       Lowest flows are in February, before the onset of the long rains;

·       Mean flows at Mara Bridge (Purungat) are 12.5 m3/second, dropping to below 1 m3/second in February;

·       Chris and Amanda have not conducted their research long enough to comment on the current flows within a historical context.  However, other researchers have compiled data going back to the 60s and 70s;

·       A paper by Gereta et al(2009) reported on data collected from the Mara River in Tanzania and estimated that flows in drought periods had declined by 68% since 1972 (I would pose that there has been a further, and significant decline, since 2009);

·       Chris and Amanda reported that low flows can have a very pronounced ecological effect and that hippo can contribute 8,500 kg (dry mass) of organic matter to the river daily;

·       The latest hippo count (2019) saw 2,757 hippo between the upper Mara Bridge and Purungat – up from 1,924 counted in the Reserve by Kanga et alin 2006; 

·       During normal flows this organic matter is distributed throughout the river, but during low flows this matter is deposited on the river bottom, where it slowly decomposes;

·       This process of decomposition results in declines in dissolved oxygen and increases in compounds like ammonium and hydrogen sulfide – both which can be lethal to aquatic insects and fish;

·       The Mara River had less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved Oxygen from 27thJanuary 2019 until the rains in mid-February;

·       Any flushing out of the hippo pools from heavy rain or a flash flood could result in a massive fish die-off, as has happened in the recent past;

·       Insect taxa that are indicative of a healthy river system (mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies) are replaced by black flies;

·       It is difficult to determine the decline in insect taxa on riparian spiders, lizards birds and bats - it may be fairly significant;

·       We are yet to determine the effects of poor water quality on the human and wildlife populations, as outbreaks of water-borne diseases become more common under these conditions;

·       Hydrological modeling show that if we were to experience a severe drought such as in 1949-52 and again in 1972-3 that the river would dry up for up to two months; this could potentially lead to an 80% decline in the wildebeest population (I would question the 80% decline in the wildebeest population, they don’t rely on the river until after June each year and flows have always been fairly strong at that time.  However, it may have a major impact on other wildlife species such as elephant);

·       There are still important questions to be answered and we hope that dedicated researchers like Chris and Amanda will be around to work on them.

  

It should be noted that this year, and the past few years for that matter, have not been drought  years and yet the river flows continue to decline in the January to March period.  

 

Wildlife

A lion cub died on the 10th, it was seen alone two days before, fed one day but died the next.  There seems to be at least three prides of lions with young cubs at the moment – not a great time for them, as food is scarce.

 

A young elephant had a snare removed from its trunk on 12th, the snare had virtually cut through the trunk.  

 

A giraffe ran into a wire fence near Kawai, on the escarpment, and broke a front leg. There was no chance of recovery and the animal was euthanised on the 21st.  Fencing throughout the Mara region is becoming a major problem for wildlife, it has cut off most of the migration routes and dispersal areas for the Loita migration – not to mention the very large number of animals – giraffe, zebra and wildebeest that are killed in these fences.

 

The two cheetah cubs are almost ready for release and we are looking for collars for them so that we can track them in the first few months.

Security 

Eighteen poachers were arrested and 93 wire snares were recovered in February.  As usual at this time of year the poachers are focusing on hippo – the Nigro-are rangers estimated that six had been killed along the river in Tanzania during the month – warthog and impala or Thompson’s gazelle.

 

The Nigro-are rangers arrested four people during a late patrol along the escarpment in the Lemai Wedge.  Two people escaped, they were all on their way to hunt when caught.  Two wire snares were recovered, as were five machetes.  On the same day, the Oloololo team joined up with the Anne Kent-Taylor team and Oloisukut rangers and recovered 80 snares opposite Cheetah Camp on Mara North.  Unfortunately the Oloisukut rangers had chased the poachers earlier. However,  the 80 snares were in camp, together with three spears and locally fabricated back-packs.  There was an impala and a warthog carcass in camp.

 

One of our rangers Kironkai was injured when chasing poachers on the night of  the 5th.  He tripped in front of one of our vehicles and was hit by the vehicle.  The poacher was arrested and the ranger taken to Kisii for medical attention.  His collar bone was broken, his hip was dislocated and he had cuts on his face.  He was released from hospital after a few days.

 

A joint patrol between Nigro-are and TANAPA set an ambush near the river at Serengeti Ndogo on the 10thand managed to arrest six men who were carrying hippo meat.  They were part of a large gang of people, estimated at 15 men and some women who had butchered a hippo.  The rangers also caught four of the women carrying meat.  We heard that another hippo that had been killed near the Island close to the VIP camp sold for Tsh 1,050,000 (approximately Ksh 45,000 at Tsh 23.19:1Ksh).  No wonder there are virtually no hippo downstream from Kogatende.

 

One person was arrested during an ambush near Tabora B in the Northern Serengeti on the night of the 11th, he and two others were on their way to camp near Nzonzo and were carrying enough food for several days.  The following night one more person was arrested at 11.00 pm near Sampura in the Lemai Wedge, he was part of a group who were on their way to hunt gazelle or impala with dogs and torches.  There was torch activity near Nyanguki and the rangers moved position and stayed until morning but the poachers had obviously seen the activity when the one person was arrested and left.  

 

Four snares were recovered below Kirindon on the 19thand one butchered hippo carcass was found near the old Saiyari camp in the northern Serengeti on the 23rd. 

 

Warden W Nailenya had four cattle stolen from his home on the 21st.  A combined team from the paramilitary police, our rangers and the community followed the tracks and managed to recover the cattle from the home of a notorious thief near Soit.  The thief escaped but the team found four other cattle that had been stolen from a member of the community in January, more cattle that may have been stolen and a solar panel that had been stolen last year.

 

Seven wire snares were recovered near Lempise by the Nigro-are rangers on the 28th.  That night our rangers joined forces with their TANAPA counterparts and managed to arrest six people from two different groups hunting near Serengeti Ndogo. They arrested two, of three people, in the first instance soon after 8.00 pm and then later managed to arrest four people from a group of six.  The poachers were hunting gazelle with dogs and torches.

Revenue and Accounts

We continue to collect more than last year, January was up by 35% on the same month last year.  All the indications are for an excellent year, February alternated between being full and quite empty and we were certainly helped by the Chinese New Year, and a number of tourists from Europe and the United States. 

Repairs and maintenance

The grader transmission is still in Nairobi, we hope that it will be ready in early March.  

 

Our tractor hitch required repair and we used the opportunity to cut some of the grass tracks.

 

We have ordered shelving for the new store and it should be ready for collection in early March.

 

We continued with road repairs and did a lot of work on the main road to Oloololo gate and re-surfaced the road to the Serena water pump.

 

The new Suzuki Marutis were delivered at the end of the month and will be collected in early March. 


Report on focus for February

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Focus for March 2019 

·      Bat proof the KAPS office at Purungat;

·      Install new shelving in the store;

·      Start on a new house at Kilo 2;

·      Complete Administrator’s house;

·      Possibly start on new staff housing at Iseiya;

·      Work with Angama on facilities at the hippo pool;

·      Sell Suzukis;  and

·      Survey Reserve boundary.

February 2018

February 2018

Most of February was very hot, dry and windy and the Mara River virtually stopped flowing by the 20th;  there was a slight reprieve when we had some rain in the last week, culminating in a heavy thunderstorm on the 28th, resulting in a marginal increase in river flow. 

February 2006

General

We had a few sporadic storms throughout the early part of the month, only one or two were heavy enough to stimulate grass growth.  However, there was a very heavy and widespread storm from the 24th and the rains continued in earnest until the end of the month.  For most of the month we were under considerable pressure to assist the locals along the escarpment with grazing and finally gave them permission to graze their cattle along the slopes of the escarpment;  most of these areas had been burnt by the Masai and offered very little grazing.  The spring at Oloololo gate dried up for the first time and we had to start ferrying water to the staff based at the gate.  The heavy storms in the last few days of the month alleviated a dire situation;  the whole area is now green, the water has been replenished in most of the water courses and the Oloololo spring recharged.  The Mara River had virtually stopped flowing in the Serengeti but the situation has slightly improved with recent rain.

 

The Chief Executive met with the Hon G Konchellah and Dr M Isahakia on the 7th to discuss the possibility of establishing a visitor centre in the Triangle.  Dr Isahakia has been Director of the National Museums of Kenya.

 

The Chief Executive met with the Clerk and Chairman of the Council on the 21st to discuss issues and a familiarisation visit by the Council.  This was followed by the visit by the full council on the 23rd.  They had lunch at Mara Serena and then visited potential development sites for camps and lodges before going to Ngiro-are.

 

The tender committee, comprising M/s D Konchellah, J Robertson and J Soin sat to review tenders for the Earthview audit.  They did not accept any of the tenders and we will probably seek for new tenders.

 

We instituted an environment day on the first Sunday of the month – our staff all went around the Reserve collecting rubbish.  This will now become routine and we hope to involve the camps and lodges in collecting refuse in and around their compounds.

 

Wildlife

We still have approximately 10 - 15,000 wildebeest in the Triangle, there was a peak in births coinciding with the full moon on the 10th.  The wildebeest have been following sporadic storms on both sides of the border but look as if they will stay in the short term.

 

The cheetah with five cubs lost three of her cubs to birds of prey on the 4-5th, she then moved her cubs.  Five days later she lost her two remaining cubs, most probably to jackals.  She was seen with her cubs in the evening - that night she obviously hunted and the following morning was found having fed but minus her cubs.  This was most unfortunate and the second litter known to die whilst still in the nest in the past four months.  “Cleopatra” the female cheetah that lost her cubs a few months ago disappeared for a while and has reappeared with severe mange that requires urgent treatment.

 

The lioness with two cubs near Mara Bridge also lost one of her four month old cubs somewhere between the 7-10th of February. 

 

Dr Stephanie Dloniak submitted her annual report on predator populations within the Masai Mara for the period ending October 2005.  In her report she estimated the adult hyena, lion and cheetah populations as follows:

  • Hyena  424 ± 41
  • Lion  269
  • Cheetah  47

She estimated 60 lions in the Mara Triangle, the same estimate as ours.  She was concerned about a possible 40% drop in the lion population in the past 15 years and would like to do a more in-depth and longer term study on the lion population and possibly base it in the Triangle.

 

A routine patrol by Anne Kent-Taylor’s scouts and our scouts from Oloololo gate found 17 dead hippo upstream from Mara Rianta.  We have seen several dead hippo in the Triangle and dozens of very weak animals and can expect to see many deaths until the grazing situation improves.  Hippo seem to be the worst affected but we were also beginning to see a number of thin and weak buffalo as well.

 

One young bull elephant was found dead near the Tanzanian border, it had slipped and wedged itself in a game trail.

 

Two cattle were killed by elephant along the escarpment on the 25th, there is no longer any need for people to graze their cattle along the escarpment and we will stop it immediately.

 

One very tame male leopard has been seen regularly in the past two weeks, we hope that it will remain in the area.

 

Staff

We conducted our routine staff transfers on the 13-14th. 

 

Tourism

Mara Serena ended February with 96% occupancy and has a forecast pf 91% for March.  Mara Serena continues to have exceptionally high occupancy rates and outperforms all other Serena properties.  They were voted one of the World’s top 500 hotels by Travel and Leisure magazine – for which we congratulate them.

 

Table 1 shows day visitors into and out of the Mara Triangle from other parts of the Mara in February

 

Security

16 wa Kuria poachers were arrested during the month, bringing the total arrests to 547.  A further 95 wire snares were recovered.

 

The Serena team arrested two wa Kuria poachers on the 4th, they were part of a group of four who had come into the Serengeti to hunt hippo downstream from Kokatende.  No wire snares were recovered and the poachers were arrested the morning they arrived, before they had killed anything.

 

The Serena/Kokatende teams arrested three wa Kuria poachers on the 11th in a joint operation across the river and downstream from Kokatende.  They first arrested two people and then later came across a large group of 17 people as they were entering the Serengeti.  They arrested one and the others managed to escape.

 

The Ngiro-are team arrested three wa Kuria poachers on the night of the 16th near the Ngiro-are swamp.  These poachers were armed with very heavy spears and were on their way to the Mara River to hunt hippo when apprehended.  That day the same team had found 16 wire snares around the swamp.  They saved one eland but found two others dead, together with one dead wildebeest and one dead zebra.  Two nights later the same team made contact with a large group of poachers in Tanzania and chased them without success.  The poachers had killed 7 oribi and two Thompson’s gazelle with dogs.

 

We set up a joint observation point with the Tanzanians on the 17th in an area along the escarpment that is heavily traversed by poachers. 

 

The Serena team arrested two of three wa Kuria poachers in Tanzania, towards the Mara Bridge in an area we know as Daraja la Mzee on the 22nd.  Both people had been arrested previously and given light sentences.  This time we handed them over to the Tanzanians at Kokatende.  They had killed two zebra and a topi when arrested.  Six wire snares were recovered and they said that the third poacher had escaped with the remainder.

 

Three wire snares were recovered by the Ngiro-are/Kinyangaga teams on the 24th, they also found the carcasses of two butchered buffalo along the Ngiro-are swamp in Tanzania.  The following day another routine patrol in the same area found 12 wire snares, three of which had killed animals;  two zebra and one buffalo.  On the same day, the 25th, the patrol arrested one wa Kuria poacher between the two bridges known as Daraja Mbili in the Lemai Wedge.  The person was hunting alone and had killed one zebra and was in the process of drying it.  He also had a hare that he said he has taken from a leopard and three fish that he was drying.  We recovered one bow with six poisoned arrows and 17 wire snares, this was more than we normally recover from an individual and we felt that he was the third poacher who had escaped arrest in the same area a few days before.

 

Two wa Kuria poachers were arrested on the morning of the 26th at Nyumba Nane, the ridges in the Triangle between Mara Serena and Mara Bridge.  They had arrived that morning and were in the process of hunting a female buffalo that was giving birth when arrested.  We recovered 25 wire snares, a bow with poisoned arrows and a spear.  This is the first known incursion deep into the Triangle since August 2005, when we apprehended five people in the same area.

 

One wa Kuria poacher was arrested along the Mara River near Kokatende on the 27th.  He was one of a group of six, the others escaped across the river, who had just arrived and were intent on hunting hippo.  Spears and food were recovered but no wire snares.

 

Two wa Kuria poachers were arrested near Wagakuria in the Serengeti on the 28th by a joint Serena/Kokatende patrol; a third poacher escaped.  They had killed two zebra and a wildebeest, 16 wire snares were recovered.

 

Development

We have been informed that the Tenders for the Mara Bridge to Mara Serena section of our main road were well above the funds allocated for the work.  The work will go out to tender a second time and the Mara Conservancy asked to place a bid for this work.  This work was originally scheduled for October 2005 and then March 2006.

 

We have purchased all the required items for the new office at Ngiro-are and have also stockpiled ballast, sand and stone.  Building will commence in March.

 

The road team have continued with repairing sections of the lower Mara Serena to Mara Bridge road.  The hydraulic rams for the trailer were leaking and were sent to Nairobi for repair, they were returned at the end of the month.

 

We sent a few parts from the grader for service and repair, in preparation for the new season.

 

Revenue and Accounts

Revenue continues to be higher than for the corresponding months in previous years, the high value of the Kenya Shilling reduces this increase to some extent.  As we enter the low season we can expect expenditure to exceed revenue for March, April and May but we have sufficient reserves to cover the shortfall and still end the financial year with a reasonably healthy cash balance.

Report on focus for February

Focus for March

·       Complete repairs on lower Mara Bridge road;

·       Start building office at Ngiro-are;

·       Hold Board meeting on 3rd March;

·       Start preparing for staff appraisals in April and May;

·       Determine way forward with or without management agreement;  and

·       Finalise Earthview Contract.