A whirlwind 12 days of meetings and lots of travel. We started in Nairobi by meeting with WWF Kenya and Kenya Wildlife Service to talk about our ideas for the project and get their feedback for how to make our plans fit in with their priorities. Everyone was very welcoming and even the Nairobi traffic didn’t seem so bad. Then we were off to the Maasai Mara via the Narok County Government offices. For me, the best part of the drive is always the view from the top off the escarpment as you descend into the Rift Valley.
We arrived at Sekanani Gate and from there drove through the National Reserve to Talek. It was rainy season and these were some of the heaviest rains that East Africa has seen in a long time. I have also only been in the Maasai Mara during the dry season so, even though I had heard reports about how tall the grass was, I was still shocked. This did make seeing wildlife a lot more difficult but we still saw lots of elephants who were enjoying the grass before the arrival of the noisy wildebeest from the Serengeti in June/July.
The first thing on our agenda was to meet representatives from the local KWS and National Reserve offices to discuss the project with them. As in Nairobi and Narok everyone was very positive about the project and excited about the potential. We also saw a black rhino near the KWS research station which was the first rhino I had seen in Kenya so very exciting! We were then extremely lucky to see the coalition of five male cheetah, known as the 5 Musketeers, successfully hunt a large male impala stalking right past our vehicle. For Dan’s first full day in the Mara it definitely was action packed!
Throughout the rest of the trip we visited a number of the community wildlife conservancies and the Mara Triangle to discuss setting up camera traps with their management teams. Due to the large amount of rain the Mara has received getting around sometimes proved to be difficult with even some of the main roads impassable due to mud and full luggas (rivers). However, we still managed to make it to all our meetings apart from one. Our luck with sightings also continued as we saw an attempted (but failed) hunt by some young lions and more cheetah and lions in the conservancies along with many herbivores and some interesting birds of prey.
Although not originally part of the plan, this scoping trip has proved to be very useful for getting everyone on board with the project at an early stage and hopefully will make the permit applications run a lot more smoothly. It was also important to us that the community were involved so the people who work on the ground are kept in the loop. We wanted to start to build the communication networks that we can use to get our findings to the decision makers. We don’t want to publish results and claim they are of use to conservation and management without directly feeding those results back to the teams who make the decisions. I would definitely recommend a scoping trip to future new field projects if funds allow, with so many people involved in this project it was definitely worth the effort.
We are now back in the office in a sea of paperwork as we apply for our permits and organise the shipping of the camera traps and other equipment. Whilst this is probably one of the least fun aspects of field work we are really looking forward to getting back out to the Mara and getting started!