Drought threatens wildlife in world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve

Wednesday January 25 2017

A pride of lions tries to eat a buffalo at Maasai Mara National Reserve. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A pride of lions tries to eat a buffalo at Maasai Mara National Reserve. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GEORGE SAYAGIE
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The drought that has continued ravaging various parts of Kenya now threatens wildlife in the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Crocodiles and hippos are dying as the Mara and Talek rivers, which traverse the game reserve, are drying up.

Wildebeests and zebras are crossing the dry river beds, heading to Tanzania to seek greener pastures.

Conservationists have raised the alarm, saying that the drying-up of the rivers, whose source is in the depleted Mau Forest, is one of a series of ominous signs that could lead up to an ecological disaster.

Matira Camp wildlife researcher Antony Tira on Wednesday said the dry spell is putting Kenya’s wildlife sector under more pressure as human activities within the Mara Basin reach alarming proportions.

“In some parts, there is a small channel, one or one-and-a-half feet deep, and several pools of stagnant water along the massive riverway that turned to be a dry gully,” said Mr Tira during an interview with the Nation along the bank of River Mara on Tuesday Morning.

He said the river is becoming unpredictable, resulting in widespread animal deaths across the country’s biggest protected wildlife reserve. Mr Tira said the drought had worsened and was forcing wildlife out of the 1,526 square kilometres of the Mara towards Serengeti in Tanzania.

The River is known for migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes from the Serengeti Plains into the Mara Basin from July every year. The spectacle generates millions of shillings in revenue through tourism but with the new threat, the benefits could soon be history.

“If the irregular flow of River Mara becomes more and more extreme, it could cause the collapse of the wildebeest population, thus hampering the entire migration cycle that sustains the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem,” said Mr Tira.

Water scarcity has put wild animals and the Maasai community living around the reserve in conflict as the number of livestock driven into the reserve for grazing and water reaches alarming levels.

The fuse for all these disasters was lit in the Mau – the river’s 13,325km2 ecosystem that is home to more than 1.1 million people.