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Wildlife in major game reserves face threat as Mara River dries up

Sunday March 4 2018

Maasai Mara Game Reserve

A Lioness quenches its thirst at a stream in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Concerns have been raised over the drying up of the Mara River which is the lifeline for Kenya’s Maasai Mara reserve, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and the adjoining game-controlled areas. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE SAYAGIE
By GEORGE SAYAGIE
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Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and the adjoining game-controlled areas have only one year-round river, the Mara.

However, the drought that has continued ravaging various parts of the country now threatens wildlife in the world-famous parks as the as the Mara River, which serves as the heart of tourism in these areas is on the verge of drying up.

It is evident that the water level in the key river has reduced drastically, portending danger in the near future.

The destruction of the Mau Forest complex, the source of the river, has been blamed for the current situation.

The drying up of the river spells doom for tourism prospects at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

ANIMALS DYING

A spot check of the river reveals that crocodiles and hippos are dying as the Mara and its tributary, Talek River, are drying up.

Wildebeests and zebras, among other wild animals, have been crossing the dry river beds, heading to Tanzania to seek for greener pastures.

In some parts of the river is now just a small channel.

Crocodiles and hippos are competing for pools of water that remain along the almost drying river.

Conservationists also argue that the Mara ecosystem is now more polluted than ever before and is still under enormous threats arising from human activities.

The Mara is a trans-boundary resource shared by Kenya and Tanzania and it covers an area of 13,500 square kilometres with 65 percent of it being in Kenya.

Talek River

A woman cross the dry Talek River bed, the main tributary of Mara River.  An ecological crisis is looming as water level in the river has reduced drastically due to the destruction of Mau Forest. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

ECOLOGICAL DISASTER

The conservationists warn that the drying up of the Mara River whose source is the Mau Forest is one of a series of ominous signs that could lead to an ecological disaster.

The river covers three counties of Bomet, Narok, Kericho and Nakuru which also are part of the Mau Forest ecosystem, a critical catchment of the Mara River basin.

“This climate change issue and occupation of the Mau Forest is negatively affecting wild animals and is causing changes in their breeding grounds, animal populations, increased animal deaths, changes in migration routes and patterns,” said Mr Parmataro Lemein, a wildlife scientist based at Matira camp.

Mr Lemein’s concerns are inspired by the irregular flow of the Mara and its main tributary, Talek River, which has become more and more extreme, with conservationists warning it might cause a collapse in the wildebeest populations, thus hampering the entire migration cycle that sustains the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

FIGHT FOR SPACE

“Aquatic life is being threatened here. Hippos and crocodiles are fighting for space in the pools of water that equally have turned dirty due to stagnation. The water is diminishing, causing stress to the underwater animals and often (resulting in) regular fights over territory,” added Mr Lemein.

The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem coordinator Nick ole Murero noted that there has been constant migration and dispersal of wildlife in the recent past and attributed it to the changes in climate and destruction of the Mau Forest, the source of the river.

“The climate in the Mara is becoming unbearable. The animals tend to move to other areas where they can be able to survive. The Mara River is a source of life but there is no water,” said Mr Murero.

He said thousands of hippos, elephants, wildebeests, and buffaloes have migrated to Serengeti park in Tanzania after several streams and water dams within the Mara dried up.

wildebeests crossing Mara River

Tourists watch wildebeests crossing Mara River. The annual spectacle may be doomed in the future if efforts are not made to conserve the Mara ecosystem. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

POPULATION GROWTH

Local tour operators and hoteliers have so far raised the red flag over the current human population growth rate coupled with excessive exploitation of natural resources within the core areas of the Mara River basin.

However, all is not lost.

Last week the Narok County government imposed a permanent charcoal ban and logging following widespread outcry over loss of forests, a fact that continues to expose Kenya to the vagaries of climate change.

Governor Samuel ole Tunai’s announcement came two days after Deputy President William Ruto suspended logging in all forests in the country for the next three months as water levels in major rivers countrywide continued to drop at alarming levels.

LOGGING BAN

Mr Tunai said all logging activities in Mau Forest, Nyakweri Forest in Transmara, Enoosupukia Forest in Narok East and Loita Forest in Narok South have been banned and declared illegal.

“We are also rolling out a massive afforestation programme to plant trees in the Mau and along the riparian areas of the Mara River,” said Mr Tunai.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala hailed the ban on charcoal burning and logging by both the county and national governments, saying it will go a long way in saving both human and wildlife along the Mara River basin.

“The Mara River ecosystem is the lifeline of people in this region. There is therefore an urgent need for communities living along the basin to embrace the conservation efforts being put in place.”