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.
These shots were taken several months ago as some of our walking safari clients were leaving on the road to Nanyuki. You can see in the photo that one of the front dogs has a collar. This will be one of the Laikipia Wilddog projects animals and we will be sure to forward this post to them for identification. In the picture there is a fence in the background. This fence borders one of the large conservation ranches and functions to keep black rhino within a large area and also restricts illegal grazers from entering from the main road. The fence allows all animals but the rhinos from passing and so do not get the impression that these animals are at all enclosed or tame – they are very wild and free to roam all over our area.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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)
We find Desert Roses downstream on the Ewaso Nyiro River and east of us at lower altitudes .Yesterday though, Kitilla, one of our rangers came to us to say he had found an unidentified plant along our eastern boundary. We were shocked to find that it was a Desert Rose. These incredible flowering bushes, despite a poisonous sap is a popular ornamental plant that makes its way to nurseries all over the world. The sap is also used by some African tribes as a pois0n to tip their arrowheads. This individual is the only Desert Rose that we have seen in our area. How it was dispersed so far from his friends in the lower hotter country is a mystery. Anyone know if birds eat Desert Rose seeds?
Not too long back we hosted a very nice Dr. and his son on a walking safari. Tim, who works at a hospital in the UK brought a great bag of surgical instruments for us to distribute.
In the states and most first world countries these instruments are these days disposable – A sad commentary when so much of the rest of world go without these critical tools for health care. After boiling all the instruments for a good half hour we gave a large set to the Mpala Health Outreach Clinic pictured below. The mobile clinic helps people in our area who have no access to proper health care as well as HIV/Aids education and Family planning.
It was nice to find these fellows in the camera trap this morning. Vulturine Guinefowl are some of the areas most distinguished birds. Fly Tyers love to get their hands on Vulturine skins. The blue, it turns out is rather irresistible to not only the camera but also certain atlantic salmon. We often use the vulturine to find predators. When you hear these birds mobbing something you will often times find a cat or mongoose or a snake sheltering from the uproar.
Goatsucker is a traditional name given to birds in the order Caprimulgiformes – the nightjars. The term was based on a belief that the birds drank the milk of goats. Fortunately for the local masai this belief was long ago proven erroneous. Nightjars are insectivores predominantly nocturnal and closely related to owls.
The other day i ran into the following Donalson-smith Nightjar while walking about camp at night.
Just back from a walk along our boundary with the neighboring ranch Male. Along the boundary i ran into this male Lesser Kudu. He was with a herd of 6 other females/young and one beautiful dark male that only showed himself once. When we first told people about our lesser kudu here many did not believe they were lesser, insisting that we were seeing Greater Kudu that are also around in the more hilly areas.