Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The Masai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem is home to the last great concentration of mixed species plains in Africa. Apart from the scenic beauty of the landscape, the area is best known for the spectacular migration of two million wildebeest and zebra, which move between the north and the south each year.
The reserves protect most of the ecosystem, but much of the Kenyan region is privately owned, and is rapidly being lost as a wildlife habitat due to reckless changes in land use.
Although traditionally the Masai have existed in harmony with wildlife – permitting the continued existence of wildlife in close proximity to people and livestock – as the Masai move away from subsistence living, lifestyles attuned with the presence of wildlife are becoming less tenable.
The current conflict between wildlife habitat, wildlife and human expansion, agriculture and mass tourism has reached an indefensible level, with conflicts between predators and livestock now a leading cause of tension.
As cattle numbers and human encroachment increase, so does the threat to the Mara’s big cats. One organisation that is seeking to address this problem is Living with Lions through their Mara Predator Project (MPP). The team is monitoring the lions in the area to identify key trends and shifts in population, and building an online database of lions so that effective conservation methods can be applied.
The MPP project also records cases of conflict between livestock and predators, and has begun lion conservation education in local schools with the ultimate aim of reducing the threat to the lion population.
While such problems in the dispersal areas to the north of the park are familiar, the threat to the mixed forest grassland to the north and west are much less well known. Much of the indigenous olive forest upstream along the Mara River has already been lost. However, there is still a very substantial area of forest-grassland above the Siria escarpment, long known to be an important area for elephants, oribi and Chanler’s Mountain reedbuck.
Ironically, while the areas are in grave danger of being entirely overrun by misguided land-use practices, the very heart of the ecosystem is being damaged principally by indiscriminate tourism development.
Camps and lodges are being constructed on an ad hoc basis with very little apparent regard for environmental impact. The most visually apparent impact is that of tour vehicles – an aerial view of the Mara will reveal an unrestrained maze of tracks scarring the landscape.
The cumulative impact of all the above, both within the reserve and its surrounding region, means that the Masai Mara ecosystem is in a perilous state of decay. Unless real action is taken now, the Mara will no longer be able to support its current biodiversity and vast numbers of animals will disappear from this vitally important corner of the planet.
The solution is to create options that not only favour the continued presence of wildlife and pristine habitat, but also far exceed the value that can be derived from agriculture or other damaging tourism activities.
Twenty years ago, conservation focused on the species, and we saw campaigns to save the elephant, panda or whale. Then we realised that if we were able to focus on protecting the natural habitat, then the animals could take care of themselves.
What is becoming more and more apparent is that the communities that own the land are the most important partners in conservation. With their goodwill, the habitat will survive and the animals will have a secure place to breed and nurture one another. A holistic approach to conservation, that entails the creation of alternate profit centres and non-competitive land uses, is a step in the right direction.
In the 1960s, the then President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, hit the nail on the head when he outlined his views on conservation in the Arusha Manifesto: “The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa... these wild creatures amid wild places they inhabit, are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration, but they are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well-being.”
Ensuring that this national asset is secured on a long-term basis for future generations is of paramount importance.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
So the next day waking up bright and bushy eyed we set about the task of rescuing the hippo. The pit was about 20 foot deep, but still the hippo could when standing on his back heels could get nearly to the top of the pit. So lessons would be learnt not to get to close to the edge, as the water and continued path treading were making the edges unnervingly unstable. But as the hippo struggled we became more concerned and realised that we needed to get water in as soon as possible and him out, to ensure that it did not die of a heart attack. Although they are huge creatures, quick and extremely powerful they do not cope with stress particularly well.
The decision was made to dig a channel back towards the river and guide the hippo down the channel. Well that was our only real option with one tent about 30 meters away in one direction and another about 100 meters in the opposite direction we would have preferred the river route. So a trench was dug, dead trees were found and we created a channel for the hippo to escape from.
By this stage we were thinking how we could record this rescue and everybody was trying to get a safe and clear vantage point. Myself, well I was up a ladder in a thicket of trees. I was ready for the hippo to come out, to get the shot of it all angry and then seeing the river running back to the river. I waited for an hour and a half. Watching the hippo come up and then go back down.
So a different tact was taken and we knocked down the dividing barrier between the trench and the hole and started to fill that up. By this time it was lunch time and what do hippos do during the day, mm sleep and that is what our hippo did. No activity, so I thought that lunch was in order.
We did try and came back and waited after lunch, but it became apparent as with everything in the bush, the animals will do what they want and we can try and help them but even if we do they will do it in their own time. So I got the offer of an afternoon game drive and jumped at that and as per everything the hippo came charging out when there only a few people there to see him go back into the water. The fact that he went straight through the river and out the other side maybe a reflection that it wanted to get as far away from humans as possible.
This was my first Monday in camp, nothing like those Monday morning feelings getting the tube to work.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I have come to Serian for 3-4 months to work on a game lodge. An escape from the city of London and from the so called credit crunch. Lovely I have to say. The week before I came I was in the Bank of England during the G20 riots.
Here is an overview account of my first three weeks in camp and also my impressions of camp with a couple of incidents in more detail.
Where oh where do I start. The camp is unbelievable, we only have electricity for the office (hence internet) and the charger room for cameras and the TV. Very important aspect here, been watching the super 14s and football. All the food is cooked by charcoal or in the kiln it is just amazing. There is a deaf and dumb guy called Mzungu who makes the most amazing bread. Not sure how I will be able to go back to any other bread after this. Is amazing how much we can survive without electricity and not only survive but not even realise it is not there.
The tents are amazing and look down to the Mara river over a hippo pool, and the bath rooms are a sight in themselves. Each of them are different and have many differing appeals but I have to say my shower is an old tree stump which overlooks the Mara river and the escarpment. Most definitely an amazing sight at sunset, then there is the bath not sure I will ever have a bathroom quite like it, well definitely not one with a view.
The camp really is in the middle of nowhere, this morning I found buffalo dung outside of my tent within 10 meters, we also have a leopard that lives with her two cubs within 100 meters of camp. For those of you who have watched big cat diaries it is Zawadi, halftails daughter, I think they called her Shadow in the program. We had an elephant in camp at night a couple of days ago, well so I was told I slept straight through it.
Alex has a permanent house here, and a couple of weeks ago on of the workers went to go into it and the leopard was lying there with the cubs playing on the swiss ball. The place is truly amazing, and we have had some amazing people stay here, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman (on the long way down), the Mittals, Gary Linaker, Tom Cruise (with Katie), so hopefully i will get to meet some stars while I am here as well. All the staff here are great banter as well, we have been playing football by the river, (just where we hunt for the leopard), interesting. The first time we turned up for football, there were hippos snorting from the river and a group of elephant walking away in the distant. So much fun, definitely very different from working in London and the Masai Mara as an office is slightly different to Canary Wharf. I also have a few photos of elephants eating the trees next to the work shed that i have done a little work in. I cannot go on enough how amazing the camp is, having lunch overlooking the "out of Africa" escarpment or at night listening to roaring lions and just the sound of the Bush, no stansted airport or the M11. We have had a couple of funny things happen, two hippos had a fight and one of them ended up down one of the tents sess pits, I have been to a Masai Wedding, see more on both of these below.
Have been on a fair few game drives, is great I either go out early and come back and do some work or head out about 4, so get to go out a fair bit, have got some reasonably photos, but nothing amazing. Am going to start going out staying with the lions so hopefully see them hunting. Talking of hunting we have had a few old school hunters in camp staying as friends of Alex's. They have some of the most amazing stories of everything and how life was hunting and living in the bush 10/15 years ago. Has put a different perspective on hunting for me that is for sure. Plus it is great to hear all the guests stories about their adventures during the day. Just so so amazing.
Read on more for some more adventures and stories from the Masai Mara and the world of Serian.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
John Moller, an old friend of mine has been through once again with his son Kinna and nephew Schubi (Richard and Annies son) a couple of young terrors! Considered "feral" by his elder sister Schubi and Kinna run riot around the camp with their spears and bows and arrows! John meanwhile has worked out that if he sets out early enough these young champions prefer to be left in bed waiting for hot chocolate whilst planning their next bout of cheekiness. John meanwhile gets to enjoy the sight of Zawadi and her cubs and caught some great images of her not 100 metres from my house!