Tag Archives: Wildlife

Mara Triangle reports on running the Masai Mara

Earlier in December came some news reports of 26 elephant deaths that had happened in recent months in the Masai Mara area. This came a few months after a national uproar in Kenya over the deaths of 11 rhinos from a wildlife translocation program gone wrong,

The source of the stories on the elephant deaths was a report from the Mara Elephant Project (MEP), but the organization has since retracted the sensational claims.

That said, there’s a great ongoing series of reports on the management or the running of the Masai Mara game reserve by Mara Triangle. Written and archived monthly, the Mara Triangle reports give great insight into activities in the Mara, on topics like revenue collection, security updates (including poaching numbers), staff changes, rainfall, number of visitors, special arrivals, scientific research being done in the Mara, filming in the park and also on wildlife deaths.

Excerpts from different 2018 monthly reports

Revenue

  • March to May is the most difficult period as in those months, expenditure substantially exceeds revenue. March revenue was Kshs 30 million, and July was Kshs 98 million despite 44% of visitors not paying the Conservancy fee. In August they crossed the $1 million revenue mark for the first time ever, earning Kshs 109 million. Majority of visitors were from the Narok side which has better game viewing and management.
  • Discussions are ongoing between the Mara Conservancy and Narok County government, for the Mara Conservancy to manage all aspect of the park, through Seiya Ltd, except revenue collection, which is done by KAPS (Kenya Airports Parking Services). For that, they would retain 30% of the revenue.
  • Instances of non-residents, even Chinese tourists, posing as residents to enter the park, are common.
  • There is a high number of non-paying visitors and KAPS was asked to do a reconciliation. It found that, in April 56% of visitors to the Triangle did not pay the Conservancy.
  • They have applied to Safaricom for a Paybill number so people can use their M-Pesa to pay the conservancy fee. The Paybill number (863297) has since been activated and they hope to move to a cashless system of collections.
  • Governors Balloons started paying revenue for the first time in seventeen years.
Rains and Roads
  • In 2018, the Mara had its highest rainfall since 2006 causing flooding and heavy damage to roads. The rains in the areas were actually the highest recorded in sixty years.
  • Heavy rains damage roads and the management sometimes resorts to closing off some areas of the park. Vehicles crisscrossing off-road, in search of wildlife, only add to the problem. The County Government has directed that it does not want to see any saloon cars, in particular, the Toyota Probox, in the park.

Poaching and Wildlife Deaths

  • They document all wildlife deaths, the causes of these, and if there was a human involvement (versus death from natural causes), especially of elephants and rhinos and the recovery of the tusks and horns from the dead animals.
  • A District Warden from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) collects all recovered ivory after each piece has been recorded and signed for. 
  •  KWS now has a trained prosecutor in Kilgoris and there are discussions on how to fund a training course for non-commissioned officers on wildlife law, preparation of statements and court procedures.
  • Sniffer dogs are an important aspect of park security, tracking poachers and thieves. New dogs are imported from overseas, trained, and extensively traded by vets.
Human-Wildlife Conflict:
  • A study found that the main actors in this are spotted hyaenas (53% of instances), leopards (32%), and then lions (15%).
  • Most households lose an average of 3.5% of their livestock to predators.
  • A compensation system has been developed: a kill is reported, rangers visit the scene to verify, photos are taken, and if approved, payment is done at the end of the month. The Conservancy is then reimbursed by the Angama Foundation.

The World-famous Migration

  • This year, 2018, saw one of the worst migrations in recent years. While newspapers report that Tanzanian authorities started fires to create a barrier for the wildebeest, something that they do every year, this did not in fact delay the migration  – but this was a story put out by the tourist industry to explain why safaris they sold on the basis of the migration did not, in fact, feature the migration.

  •  The heavy rain in the Serengeti in Tanzania meant the wildebeest had enough water and grass and did not need to migrate until later. Wildebeest only move from Serengeti to the Mara if they have exhausted water and foliage.  The Mara used to have its own Loita migration, but that doesn’t exist any more as the Loita wildebeest population has crashed.
Bad Manner and Tourism:
  • There are daily complaints about indiscipline and more up-market operators are avoiding the Mara during the high season. A Dutch diplomat refused to pay fine for driving off-road and then blocked a bridge.
  • There is chaos at many crossings, with as many as 300 vehicles present some with people running between them (and some of these images were shared on social media).

  •  It is very difficult to gauge how much the wildebeest are affected by too many vehicles.  The vehicles disrupt the crossing and drive the animals to quieter spots. 
  • Drivers do not obey rules, especially when they think they are not being monitored. On the 23rd (of September) we had nearly 20 vehicles around a leopard sighting .. It is most unfortunate that we can not rely on our resident drivers, (who are well-trained and from top camps) to police themselves. 
  • Campsites are sometimes left in a mess, including two cases by professional safari guides.
Other Masai Mara findings:
  • Visitors in the year included Narok Governor Tunai, Cabinet Secretaries for Tourism (Balala)  and also for Internal Security (Matiangi). Leslie Roach who had donated $200,000 when the Conservancy was started, also visited the Triangle with her family. Also, John Ward visited Serena, a day before the 30th anniversary of his daughter Julie’s death (Apparently Serena was the last place that Julie was confirmed being seen alive). Some MCA’s visited, requesting assistance and David Attenborough also visited the Mara. He is making a film about the loss of biodiversity in his lifetime and his crew also did some filming for a Netflix series on ecological habits that will be shown in August 2019.  
  • The audit for the year to June 2018 was done by  Deloitte who reported that the Triangle had income of Kshs 263 million and a profit of Kshs 10.5 million after expenses of Kshs 252 million.  
  • KAPS removed three members of staff for possible fraud.
  • Some large Flircameras donated by WWF need repair but that organization no longer has funding for the camera project.

SGR enters the Nairobi National Park

Kenya’s National Land Commission (NLC) has again published a list of land titles it is seeking to acquire on behalf of Kenya Railways for the construction of Phase 2A of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) between Nairobi and Naivasha.

The parcels are in the counties of Kiambu, Kajiado, Nakuru, and Narok. Big winners include Kedong Ranch Ltd as they will be compensated for three huge land parcels (measuring 35.7 hectares, 13.01 hectares, and 100.65 hectares) that were previously listed as being belonging from Morning Side Heights,  Ruaraka Housing Estate, and Morningside Heights respectively. Another is Kiambu Western Grazing Area from who the NLC will purchase 146.8 hectares.

Big losers include the Nairobi National Park which is managed by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and which is billed as the only national park within a capital city in the world which will lose loses 41.3 hectares (about 102 acres) which will be hived from land title – L.R. 10758 that was reserved.  The Nairobi National Park was originally 28,950 acres in 1961 when a 999-year lease was granted to Trustees of the Royal Nairobi Parks. Another loser will be Oloolua Forest 17.3 hectares (about 43 acres) to the railway, at a time when Kenyans are concerned about depletion of forests.There have been news reports that construction work for the SGR has commenced in the Nairobi National Park park in the last few weeks.

Construction through the park had been contested for some time, and back in November 2016, a session was held at the Strathmore Business School where Kenya Railways staff met wildlife conservation groups, and concerned residents, to explain issues like the intent of the government, justification for the SGR, land rights, the railway route, land acquisition cost, feasibilities done, stakeholders consultations, impact on wildlife, environmental and community impact etc.

Alternative routes map from Save Nairobi National Park (“SNNP”)

Athanas Maina, MD of Kenya Railways said that it was not possible to follow the corridor of the old (British) railway, which would not be funded and whose terrain was difficult – and that they had considered seven different routes through which the new railway could exit Nairobi to pass through a crucial tunnel at Ngong. They had settled on a “modified savannah” option and the new SGR railway would loop back from the Inland Container Depot at Embakasi, and go over six kilometers of the Nairobi National Park. This would be achieved by constructing elevated bridges in three stages, and running the railway elevated at an average height of eighteen (18) metres over the park with noise defectors and that construction would be completed in 18 months.

The acting Chairman of the Friends of the Nairobi National Park said that if there was a conflict between conservation vs development,  it is because of a lack of planning and consultation, while another representative spoke of continuous assaults on the Nation National Park over the years with demands for the park to cede more land for construction of the Southern bypass highway, oil pipeline, and fibre cables among others.

Maina said that exact route that the railway would follow remained a secret as many people wanted the line to pass on their land to make money – speculating on land at any cost and waiting for the government project to come – and pointed to the LAPSSET projects that had been derailed demands for land compensation. (Elsewhere it has been reported that landowners in the Konza area got Kshs 3 million (~$30,000) per acre of undeveloped land that was acquired for phase one of the SGR). Another resident said that the park’s main threat was  not the SGR, but individuals who were privatizing land, along wildlife corridors, south of the park for housing and quarrying and cited the Jamii Bora development case

Finally, a letter from Richard Leakey, Chairman of the KWS, was read out in which he said that the SGR would have minimal impact on Nairobi National Park, and mainly during the two years of construction. He added that some conservationists had opposed fencing the southern part of the park for many years because wildlife species migrate through there, and if the railway was laid and fenced there, outside the park, it would cut off wildlife from accessing the park. That ended the debate, that day.

Running the Mara

The outcry from President Kibaki’s decision to return the Amboseli Park to the Masai community prior to the 2005 referendum was probably influenced by the impression that community was incompetent and would run down Amboseli reserve in no time. But the Masai Mara, Samburu, Baringo and other reserves are all run by local communities and rather successfully – even from before Kenya got its independence (in 1963).

Narok County Council: Said to be the richest council in the country, thanks largely to its stewardship of the Masai Mara. I can’t vouch for its financial efficiency but they have maintained the park well. They collect gate fees (no KWS smart cards here), undertake road repair within the parks, approve construction/expansion of lodges/camps in the park and hires rangers to guard the animals and the surrounding forest. The revenue collected is meant to be shared among communities and the council also controls the issuance of title deeds to the community with a subtle view to discouraging transfers to ‘outsiders.’

Roads: You need a true 4WD to get around the Mara which can get muddy and flooded when it rains. There is some serious road repair work going on, and roads inside the park are generally better than those leading to the park. However, I get the feeling that it doesn’t bother the tourists as much as it does locals (vehicle owners, hotel suppliers, tour operators) since it’s all part of their TIA experience.

Numbers to know:
5 – The number of airstrips in the Mara
4 – Types of hyaena exist – and that’s how it is spelt, not hyena
0 – Number of lodges that will be constructed inside the Mara as the council feels it is too crowded. Hence new projects are coming up along the fence or just outside the Mara.

More on property development at other parks