Mt. Kenya Burning

Today we went to Nanyuki and around midday we began to see billowing smoke coming from up from the Mt. Kenya forest.  We were told that the fire has been going for several days, that the British Army was helping to contain it and that it appeared to be largely contained this morning.  Winds in the afternoon though got the fire raging and now at 9:00 at night almost the entire Mountain is aglow in embers.  At Tumaren we are 70km from Mount Kenya and the ring of fire looks to cover a very substantial area from here.  We can only hope that much of the primordial forests are spared and that much of the burning is in the understory and not in the canopy of the large Olives and Cedars.  Hopefully we will know more in the morning.

Karisia Walking Safaris

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Ewaso Nyiro River Dry

The main river that flows north from Nanyuki and the Aberdares through Laikipia is dry.  In the terrible drought of 2000 the river stopped momentarily but resumed quite quickly. Yet now we find ourselves in a rather typical year with a river that has been dry for several months.  The wildlife is suffering terribly and I worry for the Hippos and the crocodiles that could be extirpated from the entire drainage should these conditions persist.

The main problem now is not weak short rains but too many small farmers pumping from the river upstream.  A friend who is in a Naro Moru water association upstream said that in a given short stretch of river near them they counted 400 small Honda pumps taking illegaly from the river.  These farmers then dig holding ponds which they then use to irrigate their fields.  Many people have taken the opportunity to blame the larger farms.  While they must share a bit of this burden the majority of large farms are highly regulated by the government and must not only keep within given guidelines but also practice efficient irrigation techniques (drip etc.)  The small farmers practice no conservation and they are sucking our part of the world dry.  Many in our area (Samburu and Masai who are pastoral people and depend on the same water for their herds), particularly the younger men have spoke about walking the river upstream and burning out every pump they find.  I sympathize with their frustration.

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Two poachers caught and arrested

In late December we caught our first poachers after years of trying.  One of our rangers (both of the rangers involved in this capture will remain unnamed here) found a line of 16 snares  that stretched about 400 meters. Every opening through the bush over the course of those 400 meters were snared with some wire heavy enough for large game such as Buffalo or Giraffe. Other wires were lighter and set for smaller gazelles.  When the snares were found our ranger cleverly left the scene totally intact without disturbing any of the snares or laying his tracks down where the poacher would find them.  On the next consecutive 2 mornings and evenings we placed a ranger waiting in hiding with a camera to capture the identity of the poacher.

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(this pic shows how hard the snares can be to see even when you are looking straight at them)

On the third morning our ranger was in his hiding place pre dawn with his camera ready when small birds spotted him and sensing that he was a predator starting making alarm calls above his head.  While the ranger was watching the birds the poacher suddenly appeared before him, having come to the sound of the birds. As the ranger tried to get his camera up to take the picture he was seen and the poacher ran.  His identity though was known and he in fact turned out to be someone who had worked on Tumaren once before helping us clear some brush.

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(with the light behind the snare is easier to see)

The police were promptly called and after they were picked up from their station (police in Kenya rarely use their own vehicles) they were driven to the poachers house where he was sleeping inside.  On the premises the police uncovered more snares and the suspect promptly started admitting his guilt.

After taking statements and booking the poachers partner / brother we hoped that they might get a sentence that would fit the brutality and greed of the crime. When someone lays this many snares they are doing so for business not simply for the pot.  In the course of waiting to catch the poacher several animals were maimed and killed trying to escape and so it was with great dismay that we learned they had been released after only a few days in jail.  We have yet to learn why and how they got out but clearly you can assume that they had some help jumping what should be a serious charge.

Incredibly, a week back we were greeted at our camel boma by the poacher himself . He had come to “apologize” ! No sooner though had we accepted his apology when he asked for a job.  Rather than shut him down we suggested that should our area remain snare free for the next consecutive few months then we would give thought to some temporary employment.

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(This is the damage done to a tree from an animal trying to escape from a snare. for a small animal to inflict this much damage on a tree you can only imagine the damage inflicted to their own bodies)

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Vultures Galore

Its always nice to see vultures coming into carcasses in our area.  Vultures, are taking such a terrible hit globally and even here in Kenya trends have shown that dramatic declines in particular areas, including Laikipia.  The following images of Ruppel’s Griffon Vultures were taken on a zebra carcass a few months back.

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Vultures

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A vulture waiting for its turn

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More Lions with a Zebra Kill

Not long after our images of Lolmelil on the zebra killed by the snare it appears that his lionesses made a zebra kill of their own.  This was not far away and we were able to get the following images on the carcass.  You can see the young cubs in the initial images and an adult female with them, in the third.  The adult looked at the camera in this image and the next minute, like with Lolmelil, the camera was on its back taking images of whiskers, eyes and paws (like the last image here). In the morning the camera was found 30 meters away from the kill site, covered in dust and under a bush – These moultrie cameras are definitely tough.

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Lolmelil The Lion

Lolmelil, a large male lion who we have seen on a number of occasions but never photographed finally made an appearance at a dead common zebra we found a couple weeks back. The zebra had sadly died from a snare that had slowly strangled and cut it.  Parm put the camera out and got these great images of Lolmelil.  If you look very closely in the first image you can see that he has a radio collar.  The collar was put on by the good folks at the Laikipia Predator Project . Learn more about their work here:

http://www.lionconservation.org/

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He first arrived at 10:58 pm and we got this image and another.  He must have spooked from human scent because he did not return again for an hour and a half. The last image below is the last we got of lolmelil, he looked at the camera (which makes a slight red glow when using its infrared flash) and then a minute later the camera was on its back for the rest of the night – I suppose he wanted to eat in peace.

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Karisia Walking Safaris

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Dead Baby Elephant

A baby elephant was found dead today on us below our dam in an area the elephants have been spending a good deal of time.  The carcass appears to be about three days old. There were lion tracks nearby as well as Hyena but our rangers felt that neither killed it.  Because not all of the carcass was yet consumed they thought he may have died from disease and that the hyenas had then fed on it.  We have put the camera trap on the carcass.  Poor little thing.

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Lion Dead

This sad (its actually not that sad – this was an old lion) but interesting story comes from Laurence Frank from the Laikipia Predator Project. The LPP is an excellent effort fighting hard on behalf of predators and looking deeper into the conflicts that humans and predators find themselves in, in our area. Please have a look at their website http://www.lionconservation.org to learn more.
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Below is Laurence’s notes:

All –

This morning LM72 was found dead on Ol Pejeta, apparently killed by
other lions. Many thanks to Giles Prettejohn for informing us as
soon as he was found.

We collared male LM72 as a three-and-a-half year old on Segera in
January 2002. He stayed on the south half of Segera and Kihoto until
November, and then moved to Ol Jogi for a year. By March 2004 he was
back on Segera, where he resumed his old home range until August,
when he moved to Ngorare. Alayne gave him a new collar on Ngorare in
October, 2004. We think he became a pride male there, as he stayed
until April, 2006. Three days after we last found him on Ngorare, he
showed up on Mutara, presumably displaced by other males. Since then
he has moved between Mutara and Ol Pejeta; although we have not been
able to do much flying in the last two years, we had several reports
of him on OP. I attach a map showing the 78 locations we got over
the years. He covered a minimum area of 840 sq. km. in the time we
have known him.

He appears to have been badly beaten up by other males a few days
ago. He had deep infected and necrotic bite wounds on both hindlegs
and his neck, and presumably died of infections early
yesterday. Interestingly, we had a similar case of a young male
dying of infected bites and abscesses on Mpala last October.

LM72 was ten or eleven years old. To have lived that long, he was
clearly wise enough to leave cattle alone; let us hope that he left
us many offspring who learned his discretion and good manners.

Best,

Laurence

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