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Wildebeest migration: World wonder defies travel advisories

Wednesday July 26 2017

Hundreds of wildebeest at the Maasai Mara Game

Hundreds of wildebeest at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve as they prepare to cross Mara River in this picture taken on June 23, 2017. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE SAYAGIE
By GEORGE SAYAGIE
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The huffing, snorting and a cloud of dust as the wildebeest cross the Mara River from Serengeti National Reserve in Tanzania to Maasai Mara National Reserve is a sight to behold.

On one side of the river, hundreds of local and international tourists’ line up to watch the wildebeest migration, one of the world’s largest.

Ms Amy Papacek from the US told the Nation that she had to witness the migration despite negative reports about Kenya ahead of the elections in international media.

“My husband was very concerned about Kenya’s forthcoming polls that he tried to restrain me from coming. This is because the information reported by the world media painted a picture of violent elections. But I can now confirm that the situation is not as bad as it is being reported,” she said.

Wildebeests and zebras cross a section of the

Wildebeests and zebras cross a section of the drying Mara River at Maasai Mara Game Reserve on June 22, 2017. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Another tourists, Ms Flora Farago said she decided not to travel with her family over reports of tension.

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“But what I have found out here is the opposite, Kenya is so peaceful now, and I like the migration. It has lit up tourism in the reserve with the huffing and snorting of the animals taking my breath away,’ she said.

This year, the migration started earlier, with the hoofed animals jumping into the crocodile-infested water at the Sand River Gate crossing point.

SPECTACLE

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.

The beasts crossed the Sand River Gate crossing point from July 15 in the spectacle witnessed by dozens of tourists and tour operators.

Also known as the gnu, the stocky, oxlike African antelope with a drooping mane and beard, a long tufted tail and curved horns made a grand entry into the Mara, accompanied by zebras, all stampeding across the River Gate tributary.

Bull wildebeest fight at the Maasai Mara Game

Bull wildebeest fight at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve on Sunday June 23, 2017. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

They gather at the river bank, as if waiting for a sizable ‘crowd’ to gather before crossing. The then edge closer to the water and it takes one of the animals to start crossing for the rest to join in a frenzy of crossing the river.

This is a feast season for crocodiles that lie in wait under water to catch one of the animals as they cross for a meal.

The migration also brings with it lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and other carnivores that prey on the wildebeests.

GREENER PASTURES

The migrating wildebeests are now headed northwards towards River Talek, where they graze and mate every day on their endless journey of chasing greener pastures.

Matira Camp tour wildlife specialist-cum-guide, Mr Antony ole Tira said the migration takes place across 150,000 square miles of woodland, hills and open plains that form the wilderness across the two reserves.

Hundreds of wildebeest graze at the Maasai Mara

Hundreds of wildebeest graze at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve on June 23, 2017. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mr Tira, who has been in the industry for the past 25-years, said the yearly cycle begins in the south of Serengeti, where half a million calves are born between January and March.

But when the rains end in May, the land dries fast forcing the grazers to move to their green haven in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

WATER

From July to October—the main tourist season when visitors flock in to watch the dramatic river crossings—the wildebeests meander between the western and eastern sides of the river, crossing it at different points almost daily.

However, Sarova Mara Camp Manager Kioko Musyoki said the reducing water levels in the Mara River is worrying.

“If the irregular flow of River Mara becomes more and more extreme, it could affect the wildebeest population and impact the entire migration cycle that sustains the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem,” he said.