Maasai Mara National Reserve has come to life as the wildebeest migration season starts.
The migration has lit up tourism in the reserve with the huffing and snorting of the animals as they cross from Serengeti National Reserve in Tanzania, to Maasai Mara National Reserve, kicking off the annual spectacle.
The animals crossed the Sand River Gate crossing point last week. Thousands others have been crossing the border from Tanzania every day.
According to hoteliers in the Mara, this year’s migration started earlier than expected.
It is the world’s largest migration, involving more than two million animals in search of greener pastures in Kenya. It usually starts in July and ends in October.
With this, Mara’s annual tourism peak season had started. Matira Bush camp boss Antony Tira described bookings for this year’s event as “impressive”, saying he had bookings for the next two months.
However, survival of wild animals in the reserve is threatened by shrinking rivers. The reserve that covers Kenya and Tanzania, and the adjoining game-controlled areas — has only one year-round river, the Mara.
Mr Tira, a wildlife researcher and conservationist, said on Wednesday that water in the river had reduced drastically because of destruction of the Mau Forest — spelling doom for tourism prospects at the reserve.
“Water scarcity has brought wild animals and the herder community into conflict. Deaths and injuries are being experienced daily as human beings and wildlife fight for survival,” said Mr Tira.
His concerns are prompted by the irregular flow of the Mara and its main tributary, Talek.
Conservationists warn that the diminishing rivers would greatly affect the wildebeest population and hamper the entire migration cycle that sustains the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
Local tour operators and hoteliers have raised the red flag over the human population growth rate, coupled with excessive exploitation of natural resources within the core areas of the Mara River basin.
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem coordinator Nick ole Murero noted there has been constant dispersal of wildlife in the recent past and attributed it to changes in climate and destruction of the Mau Forest, the source of the river.
“The climate in the Mara is becoming increasingly unbearable, so the animals tend to move to areas where they can survive,” said Mr Murero.
He said thousands of hippos, elephants, wildebeest and buffaloes have migrated to Serengeti national park after several streams and dams dried up.