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Bush Telegraph Newsletter

February 2014



Wishing you a very Happy New Year!


We have had a busy festive season. In the Mara the zebra made an unexpected return, crossing the Mara River and providing the resident lion with an opportune meal or two. With the herds of wildebeest gone on their long trek down south it was a delight to see families of elephant crossing the Mara River and returning to the Marsh on a daily basis. With new cubs in the fold the Marsh Pride have continued to delight guests and leopard sightings have also been good with Romi and her sub adult cub making regular appearances in the woodland verges between our camps.


In Rwanda, Nelis is moved and amused by the antics of the Hirwa Gorilla Family and Loldia had been busy celebrating the festive season with guests from all corners of the globe.


We were also delighted to discover that Governors Camp and Sabyinyo had been featured on Conde Nasts top 25 resorts and safari camps in Africa and that Governors Camp was featured on the Conde Nast Gold List of best hotels in the world.


We hope to welcome you to this magical corner of Africa sometime soon.


Governors' Camp Collection




January Game Report Masai Mara



Weather and grasslands


Over the last month we have had some rain (around 139mm) which has brought on a green flush, although the grasslands remain relatively short. Early mornings were moderate and mid-day temperatures were warm until late evening. On the evening of the 30th there was a heavy hail storm with stones the size of golf balls, this came with a strong wind that brought down a few trees and limbs within the riparian woodlands and within the camp grounds many leaves were stripped, that evening we had only 16mm of rain.




Photo courtesy of Joelle Delloye


General game


Many of the wildebeest and common zebra who passed through our area of the Mara in late November and early this month have since crossed the river toward the Trans Mara side. During the latter weeks more zebra in small herds were seen crossing back from the Trans Mara side at the main crossing point on the Mara River at Paradise. A few were taken by crocodile although the Paradise lionesses and sub adults waited on these crossings and were very successful. On the 28th in the morning there was a phenomenal movement of zebra across the river and subsequent lion action when an estimated 400 plus animals were seen crossing at the main crossing points. Guests who witnessed this action captured some very good photographs.




Photo courtesy of Luke Davis


Elephant have been crossing back from the tans Mara, with family units arriving almost daily. Water marks across their bodies help indicate where they had crossed; some young elephant would have been submerged totally although Elephant on the whole are good swimmers.




Photo courtesy of Joelle Delloye


Cape buffalo in the Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge plains are being seen daily. Sometimes the Bila Shaka herd can be spread across like a line of black paint the length of the Bila Shaka river bed opposite the airstrip. Defassa Waterbuck ewes and satellite males are within the Marsh grassland verges, some of the larger males have been taken by the Marsh Lion, myth states that lion generally will not eat waterbucks yet here in the Musiara Marsh they are preyed upon frequently. Impala and Olive Baboons are common roadside visitors, one of the female baboons has a bad dose of Sarcoptic mange and sadly she has now been rejected by the other troop members.


Some of Impala ewes in these breeding herds have given birth and we often see many young fawns together in a crèche. Giraffe pass through, some of the larger breeding males who are recognisable either from their coat patterns or facially are being seen often within the camp grounds, one particular male has large 'ossicones' (giraffe don't have horns per say, these protrusions are derived from ossified cartilage, and that the ossicones remain covered in skin and fur, rather than horn.) so is very well know. Large males can travel great distances looking for oestrus females. Herds of younger sparring males were seen within the woodland verges recently. Grants and Thomson Gazelles are well spread out with Thomson's preferring the shorter grass plains.


On the 16th at 4.15pm a large Rock Python had caught a female Grants Gazelle on the north side of the Bila Shaka riverbed near the airstrip. Sources at the site said the python had started to swallow the kill from an awkward angle; she then tried to re-gurgitate the meal. The Python had its lower jaw skin flap or 'Gular flap' perforated by one of the Grants gazelle's short horns and this is perhaps what caused it to abandon its kill. Another interesting note was while in the process of trying to engulf the animals from the head its tail kept being drawn into its mouth and we are not sure if there is an explanation for this behaviour, perhaps it was trying to alleviate more room to breathe with its epiglottis. The python after abandoning the kill disappeared down a nearby hole and hyena and Jackal came by and ate what was left later that night.




Photo courtesy of Dave Richards


Topi the fleetest on foot within the ungulate tribe are in good numbers, Paradise Plains, Rhino Ridge, Bila Shaka and Musiara are good places to see them. Topi are 'bite' selectors and tend to congregate where the prevalent grass bare a good leaf structure. Male Topi who hold territorial leks are often taken by hyena as the have a tendency to doze heavily and the resident Spotted Hyena clans have learnt this and monopolize on it. A few Cokes Hartebeest will be seen more prevalently on the open grassland plains, herd sizes here are no more than a dozen. Good sightings of serval cats continue and two sightings of caracal which is a bonus, one of the caracals was seen within the rocky out crops at the top end of the Mara River. Another, a male has been seen on the ridge north of the Marsh. There have been Spotted Hyena some times in large clans across Bila Shaka and Paradise Plains, the Rhino Ridge clan has 86 members, in other areas of Masai land clan sizes have been recorded as many as 275 members!! An Aardwolf was seen near paradise plains on the 29th and again on the 30th.





The Marsh Pride with their 7 sub adult cubs of varying age groups of 15 months and 18 months of age, Bibi, Siena and Charm and the four musketeers. The two breakaways Sila and Lippy are with the three cubs who are three months old, they frequent the Marsh, Culvert and woodland areas close to the marsh, on the 29th Sila and Lippy were feeding on a female waterbuck close to the Little Governors crossing. Sikio who had hurt and slightly damaged his paw earlier seems to be a much better as he was seen actively involved in the bringing down of a large bull buffalo, these large Buffalo bulls can take a great effort to take down. One of the sub-adult male cubs was seen dead near the top end of Bila Shaka on the 12th and we are still unsure of what were the circumstances.


They have been feeding on buffalo, warthog, waterbuck and Grants Gazelle; on two occasions the lionesses and sub adults have tried pulling down a hippo but this often requires the assistance of the larger males. The paradise females with three lionesses and four cubs which two that are 9 months old and the two are 14 months old. This intermit pride have been actively successful with working their dietary habits on the main crossing points, the 24th and 28th on both days they scored well while Zebra crossed.




Photo courtesy of Joelle Delloye





Romi and her 14 month old male cub have been seen more frequently this month, latterly they have been seen on a daily basis. The 19th, 21st and 26th were dates with some good sightings of them, the male cub is actually larger than his maternal mother and within the breeches of large feline social structures he will more than likely move on and be independent in a few months time, although briefly will stay in his mother's home range. They can be seen from the BBC camp site and as far as the wooded areas close to Little Governors. The 'mortuary' male has been seen often between Hippo corner and the mortuary crossing point, he is another large tom cat and is much habituated to cars. The large male leopard at the bottom end of Bila Shaka who also sired Romi's cub has been seen near Il Moran Camp recently, this male will also be seen as far as crocodile camp on the Mara River so he covers quite a home range.




Photo courtesy of John Njoroge


The female leopard with two 7 month old cubs has been seen a few more times near the rocky hill on the Mara River close to the west ridge fan that leads into paradise plains.




The two large males born in the Mara North Conservancy were seen earlier on seemed to have headed out North West of the Reserve; these are two large male cheetahs and will cover large distances from the conservation areas in Masai conservation areas as far as the double crossing.


The young female cheetah who had three cubs that are 3 months old lost one to hyena early this month and now has two, she is being seen more in the Masai conservation areas that abut the southern boundaries of the reserve. She was seen a week ago near the bottom end of the Ntiaktiak River whereby she had killed a Thomson Gazelle.




Photo courtesy of Jacob Lelesara


Walking in the Mara North Conservancy.


A few walking safaris have taken this month between rain patterns. The grass levels here in the conservation area are still very short which makes walking very much easier, although they have had a little rain which has induced a green flush. Zebra in good numbers can be seen scattered in family units, the bottom 'Fly over' grassland plains are good places to see them. Topi are also in good numbers here as well as Grants and Thomson Gazelles.


Two Leopard have been seen very recently which is a bonus here, on the 31st near the croton hill a large male Leopard was seen walking along the ridge trail followed by wads of Thomson gazelles, interesting that ungulate species do know when a large cat is either hungry or passing passage.




Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds


Elephant are prevalent in the acacia Gerrardii woodlands, the smell of the tannin when Elephant have been feeding on the bark of this acacia is often quite strong. Some of these trees that have been watered well are very popular and elephant will feed heavily on this particular tree like a small child with a packet of sweets. Eland on the top plains are being seen taking liberty of the green flush of grass. There are some large dimorphic males on the periphery of these breeding herds. There is a large herd of Cape buffalo seen on the northern plains and sometimes on the southern plains.


The acacia lion pride have been seen twice although while those guests who are on a game drive will see them more frequently, on the 31st they had killed a zebra the night before and were seen eating it the following morning on the top 'fly over' plains near the Balanites grove.


With the recent rainfall the termites have been active colonising their numbers and structures, with this hive of activity ants of the subfamily ponerinae have also been active, worker castes of these ant are busy capturing a wide range of prey species particularly termites whom they hunt near dawn when termites are more active. Nevertheless, they also easily capture nocturnal insects such as crickets and cockroaches.





Marlin Show at Watamu Tourney


Written by David Slater "Honeylulu"


Twenty-eight boats and over a hundred anglers fished the Watamu SFC Christmas tournament, sponsored by Capt Andy's, with sixteen marlin and twenty-two sailfish caught, all released. Always one of the coast's most popular events, it is specially biased to benefit small boats as the weight of the catch is divided by the length of the boat, and good to see three of the first five was small private boats.


On the first day, the Seahorse team seemed to be well in the lead with three striped marlin and a dorado, with four other boats catching a marlin each to chase them, and ten boats sharing fifteen sail, although the points system needs ten sail to equal a marlin. When they added another stripey the second day, they felt confident but Instedda, which had one striped marlin the first day, then caught another stripey and two blue marlin plus a dorado the second day. So with four tagged marlin each they would have tied but for the dorado - the one on Seahorse was just one kilo bigger, so this gave them the winning score by that small margin! Sherry Jackman on Seahorse took the Ladies prize, while skipper Peter Ready won the Captain's prize, and Frank Jackman and Greg Gilward made up the team. Imran Moosa fished Instedda, with Anderson, Garissa and Bisa, while third place went to small boat Bingo, which won the small boat prize, fished by Muhsin Baradia, who caught two blue marlin and a sail.


Pintail fished by Russell and son Peter Brumby, finished fourth with two stripeys, and Spoit with Marcus Keane and friends was in fifth place with a black marlin and a sail, this marlin also winning the Marlin prize, while Jamie Belcher on Eclare won the Junior prize with a tagged sail. Two days of great fishing, although some boats failed to score, but it was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Thanks to Capt Andy's for a magnificent range of prizes, topped by a Yamaha 25hp outboard!


The day after the competition was also active in the Rips, with eight boats releasing marlin, while Alleycat battled a huge blue, estimated about 400 kgs, until it too released itself when the swivel broke - bad luck there!


At Kilifi, Eclare won the tournament with two sail tagged, while Tarka came second with a single sail. Down south, in the Pemba Channel, Kamara II had a great day, tagging three stripeys, while Shuwari continued their good run with a pair - so fishing looking good everywhere.

Fishing in the Pemba Channel has always been a very special experience, and for decades local anglers would visit, often in their own boats, especially at peak season in February to early March, to try for the striped marlin and big blacks and blues for which the area was renowned.

So it is good to see the marlin active there since Christmas, and recently Kamara II with skipper Simon Hemphill had an amazing day, tagging a black and six striped marlin, as well as a sailfish for an exceptional grand slam, as well as being a record daily catch for that boat. Broadbill, skippered by veteran Pat Hemphill, had four striped marlin and a sail that day, and the next day recorded three stripeys, with a group of six anglers from UK led by Julien Gostling which totalled eighteen marlin and five sail in their five days at sea on the two boats - one is not likely to better that in a hurry! From nearby Funzi, Patrizia II had four stripeys and a sail in three trips, while Shuwari from Diani has continued catching marlin so this whole area is running hot! 

At Watamu, after the good period just before the New Year with their tournament, action slowed down but some very big fish were on the lines - Alleycat, having been unlucky with two huge fish, finally boated a very big blue marlin of 282kgs for angler Pontus Smith, with Clueless reporting losing another of about 250kgs. Neptune and Seahorse both released blue marlin, while Tarka and small private boat Shika had a striped marlin each. 

Twelve-year-old Andrea Caputo on Seastorm tagged a mako shark, an exciting catch for the young man, and it is interesting to see quite a few mako being caught recently as they are rare in northern waters. Mako sharks have their own catch flag to signify their sporting status, though this one did not jump as they often do. Neptune found a pair of bronze whaler sharks as well as two sailfish, while Jasiri, Unreel, and Ol Jogi have also tagged sailfish. This Wednesday was quiet, but Snowgoose bucked this trend with a stripey and a blue marlin, to show there is always a fish or two somewhere! 

The Malindi Casino host the next tournament on 18th/19th January with great prizes so there should be a good entry searching the Rips area for the warm water bulges where the marlin lurk!


Welcome to NRT's first monthly newsletter of 2014 - I hope you find this a useful way to keep updated and informed about the exciting developments that continue to unfold in community development through conservation in northern Kenya. 

This year has many challenges ahead for community conservation in the north, but let's take a moment to savour some of the successes of 2013. The NRT family continues to grow, with seven (7) new conservancies joining the Trust, and increasingly the conservancy institutions are growing stronger and more self- determining. The livelihoods of community members in conservancies are improving, through jobs, education, water, health and cash incomes from conservation. Peace and security continue to grow, with a reduction in poaching and an increase in investment. The rangelands are improving under new planned grazing regimes, and wildlife is returning to previously degraded areas. And conservancy-related enterprises continue to grow, including tourism, livestock markets and bead-making. 

Some particular highlights are set out below, as we settle ourselves into 2014 to continue the work of the Northern Rangelands Trust. Our mission is to support community conservancies in northern Kenya that transform lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources. 

Keep in touch with our progress through the NRT website, sign up for our newsletter, or follow our progress on Facebook. And look out for our first ever State of the Conservancies Report 2013, coming soon.

Mike Harrison 
Chief Executive Officer 
Northern Rangelands Trust 


Open Day 

NRT held its first ever 'open day' back in February, in Kalama Community Conservancy. The colourful event was attended by staff and conservancy managers, heads of department from government and KWS, as well as local MPs and journalists from several news broadcasters. The aim was to increase awareness and accessibility of NRT's work both within the local community and more widely, and was deemed a success by all who attended. NRT was certainly reflected well in the resulting press features. 

Photo by Sophie Harrison 

New Conservancies 

2013 saw NRT welcome seven new community conservancies to the Trust. Songa, Shurra and Jaldesa are situated in the far north of Kenya, in Marsabit County. Still very much in the preliminary stages, they are busy electing conservancy boards and management teams and those individuals are starting to undergo the necessary training. Pate, Awer, Hanashak-Nyogoro and the Lower Tana Delta joined NRT from Kenya's north coast. These coastal conservancies provide an important habitat for marine and bird life, and the marginalised communities here have a big opportunity to manage and conserve this unique habitat in order to earn a sustainable revenue. These coastal additions to the NRT family were a catalyst for the establishment of 'NRT-Coast'.


As the number of NRT conservancies grows, so does the need for more satellite NRT support centres. NRT's main headquarters is situated in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy near Isiolo. While this provides a good base for the northern conservancies, it proved too remote to support NRT's coastal communities effectively. With six community conservancies along Kenya's northern coastline so far (four joined in 2013) and NRT's vision to expand its reach without overstretching, it was considered paramount that there be a satellite headquarters in the coastal region. And so the idea for NRT-Coast was born, and a headquarters set up in Lamu. Officially known as NRT-Coast, the work of supporting member conservancies is undertaken by its not-for-profit operating company, NCC (North Coast Conservation Ltd). 

NRT-Coast has its own board and council of elders, members of which also attend NRT's board and council meetings to ensure the link between the two is kept strong. There are different priorities here from the inland NRT conservancies, as the coastal habitat poses different challenges for marginalised communities. 

Hirola Births

Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy had cause for celebration in November, when seven newborn calves were spotted by wildlife rangers. These babies are the first hirola to be conceived in the 3,000-hectare sanctuary built solely for the conservation of this critically endangered species. The new arrivals bring the sanctuary population up to an estimated 62 animals (a 29% population increase in 15 months) and show that the hirola translocated to the enclosure in 2012 have settled well. 

Among the 32 community members employed by the conservancy in anti- poaching patrols, wildlife monitoring and sanctuary maintenance, there are four community rangers who are responsible for monitoring the hirola inside the sanctuary. Over the past year they have built up an incredible knowledge of each individual animal, how the herds are composed, and where they are found. They reported that three of the new calves were born to tagged females who were part of the helicopter capture, and the others to untagged females who in the sanctuary when the fence was closed. One of the first calves born in the sanctuary has left its mother's herd and she is heavily pregnant again. This is a great success for the Ishaqbini community, who are instrumental in bringing back a species from the edge of extinction.

Tom's Award

Perhaps one of the most significant events for NRT in 2013 was our Chief Programs Officer, Tom Lalampaa, receiving the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa from the Duke of Cambridge. Tom attended the glitzy event in London in September, and was among five other finalists in the conservation field. Dressed in his full Samburu regalia, Tom received the award from Prince William, a patron of Tusk Trust. The award celebrated his outstanding contribution to his community, neighboring communities, and the wildlife they share their land with. Tom has been working with NRT since 2006, and in his time has broken barriers; come up with innovative solutions to the challenges faced by rural communities and their wildlife, and has never once failed to have a smile on his face. It is thanks to Tom and others like him that NRT is now widely recognised as the leading model for community conservation in Kenya - and increasingly across Africa.

NRT's Chief Programs Officer, Tom Lalampaa, proudly displays his Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa after receiving it from Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. 
Defining the Future of Drones in Conservation 

Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Airware Test
the Aerial Ranger in Kenya 

From surveying oil pipelines, to searching for missing persons, to an online retail giant announcing an unconventional new delivery system - the drone is being demilitarized and is finding employment in more overt sectors. There are countless everyday challenges that could be more easily solved with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). 

One such everyday challenge for conservationists in Africa is the rapid depletion of endangered species populations. Kenya has lost 50 rhino to poachers in 2013 alone. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya is East Africa's largest black rhino sanctuary, and spends the majority of its budget and human resources trying to protect rhino and other at-risk species. So wildlife experts from the Kenya Wildlife Service and Ol Pejeta have teamed up with Airware, makers of the leading platform for commercial drone development to pioneer the future of multi-role UAV's in support of wildlife conservation. 

For two weeks in December, a dedicated three-man team from Airware in the United States travelled to Kenya to carry out a series of intensive, in- the-field tests of a prototype. 12 months in the making, the Aerial Ranger is being molded specifically to observe, track and protect wildlife. Equipped with Airware's autopilot platform and control software, it has the capacity to deliver real time video and thermal imaging feeds to a team on the ground. This means that day or night, the Aerial Ranger will be able to respond to poaching incidents in the field, sending live footage back to rangers who can help deploy resources in the most efficient way possible. In the future, footage of an incident recorded from the drone may also be used to identify offending individuals, who often live nearby, and can be held up as evidence in court. The deterrent factor alone could have a significant impact on poaching incidents. 
But the Aerial Ranger is about far more than just catching the bad guys. It will be able to make huge contributions to Ol Pejeta's Ecological Monitoring Department. The Conservancy conducts a wildlife census across its vast land area just once a year. To do this, it has to engage around 13 hours of light aircraft time at 220 USD an hour. 
Not only that, but the data collected is subject to a large degree of human error as counting has to be done in real time and with wide transects. The Aerial RangerTM could do all this in a day, at minimal cost, recording footage that can be watched several times over and carefully analysed. Censuses could be conducted monthly, providing experts with valuable and more reliable data about the Laikipia ecosystem. 
To avoid the need for Ol Pejeta to employ full time pilots and engineers, Airware has developed a simple digital mapping interface, meaning that even a technophobe with no pilot training should be able to control the drone from the ground station. They simply click a spot on a 'Google Earth' style map, and select the 'fly here' or 'point camera here' option. In the same menu is a 'return home' button, which, when clicked, will send the drone back to its launch point without any further instruction. When it has reached its landing spot, it deploys its parachute and floats elegantly to the ground. The beautiful simplicity of the operating system, coupled with sophisticated mission capabilities, was a high priority for both the Ol Pejeta and the Airware teams, and a real triumph. 
While the Aerial Ranger surpassed all expectations during its two-week African safari, there is still some way to go before it makes a regular appearance in the skies of Ol Pejeta. Ol Pejeta and Airware are committed to making the Aerial Ranger effective and long lasting, a challenge easier said than done as many testing UAVs in the field have learnt. While the sensors are tweaked, the screws tightened and the wires adjusted, wildlife conservationists everywhere can prepare themselves for a revolution.