Reduction of water in River Mara, whose origin is in the Mau Forest, and which traverses the expansive Maasai Mara game reserve right into Serengeti in Tanzania, is causing the shrinkage of the world famous annual wildebeest migration, which may stop altogether.
According to the American Museum of Natural History, the great migration, a major boost to the tourism sector, is one of the world’s large-scale-terrestrial migrations that have been severely reduced and could eventually stop.
A study, Endangered Species Research, published last month, says the lives of the more than one million animals are threatened.
But even more frightening is that the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania could vanish in less than 40 years.
Experts now warn that the catastrophic Maasai Emutai (meaning to wipe out), which occurred between 1897 and 1898, in which there were massive deaths of wildlife, livestock and people in the area could be in the making.
Many years later, the African Journal of Ecology wrote of the experience quoting an Australian explorer who had travelled in the area.
“There were women wasted to skeletons from whose eyes the madness of starvation glared ... warriors scarcely able to crawl on all fours, and apathetic, languishing elders. Swarms of vultures followed them from high, awaiting their certain victims,” wrote Dr Oscar Baumann.
“The way we handle, for example the issue of the Mau Complex will greatly influence whether people, animals and plants far away off will be able to access food and water,” Dr Julius Kipng’etich, the Kenya Wildlife Service director, told a recent meeting in Nairobi organised by the African Conservation Centre.
The meeting was receiving preliminary research finding on how plants, animals and pastoralists on the Kenya/Tanzania border are reacting to climate change and effects of environmental degradation.
The studies, carried out by the universities of California at San Diego and York, Missouri Botanical Gardens and the African Conservation Centre identified lack of water as the biggest threat to human and animal existence in the area.
The study area covers about 60,000 square kilometres, hosting 14 wildlife parks and a major tourism circuit. River Mara is the main lifeline for the Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai who live in these plains.
The river originates from the Mau Escarpment and eventually drains into Lake Victoria, having covered a distance of 395 km through the migratory routes of animals in the Maasai Mara and Serengeti.
Loss of diversity
“We are seeing more frequency and longer periods of droughts and a loss of diversity in animal and plant species,” says Ms Betty Buyu, director African Conservation Centre in an interview.
Another animal habitat threatened by the destruction of the Mau is Lake Nakuru, home to the world-famous flamingo population.
The three rivers emptying into the lake have their origin in the forest. The pink birds draw visitors from around the world.