An ecologist in the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve has said he is puzzled by the early migration of wildebeests.
The wildebeest migration spectacle normally begins in mid-June and continues to September. But this year, the herbivores started their long trek at the end of last month.
Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem Coordinator Nicholas Murero said the last such occurrence happened six years ago when the wildebeests migrated in late May.
“This is very abnormal and it has something to do with the changing weather patterns in the region,” said Mr Murero.
The wildebeest migration, which has been described as one of the seven modern wonders of the world, involves mainly wildebeests and zebras crossing to and from the Serengeti National Park in neighbouring Tanzania.
The movement attracts tourists from around the world.
Mr Murero, who is also chairman of the Narok Wildlife Forum, said in the past two months, Tanzania had experienced heavy rains and rapid pasture growth, which made it difficult for the gnus to graze thus, forcing them to migrate earlier than usual.
“Whenever the grass is longer, the gnus feel insecure because they cannot easily see their predators. This trait forces them to move to the Mara where the grass seems short,” said Murero.
He said the wildebeests normally migrate to the Serengeti to breed then come back to the Mara for pasture every year.
The early migration also drew mixed reactions from the park’s inhabitants.
Leonard Sadera, a freelance tour guide, said the early migration would have a minor effect on the tourism calendar.
“If the wildebeests we have seen are part of the larger migration, then we expect more tourists to reschedule their journeys for fear of missing the migration,” said Mr Sadera.
During Madaraka Day celebrations that took place at the Narok Stadium on Saturday, Governor Samuel Tunai announced that the annual migration had already begun.
Mr Tunai, who is also the tourism chairman in the Council of Governors, described the early migration as a major boost to tourism at the park.
“Right now, unlike other years, we are witnessing early migration of wildebeests. This is a good gesture to the hospitality industry. Visitors from across the world are welcome to come and experience the rare spectacle,” said the governor.
Majority of the hotels and camps at the park have been experiencing a low-season for the past four months hence why the early migration is being seen as a major boost for them.
Hoteliers in the Mara said they hoped to make a killing from the migration.
Olare Mara Kempinski manager Fairman Muhingi said the migration would help revive their businesses after months of low occupancy.
“We welcome the early migration. We are hopeful that it will boost bookings after the low season,” said Mr Muhingi.
Masai Mara Game Reserve Chief Park Warden Patrick Kuyioni described the early migration as a rarity.
“It is true we have seen thousands of wildebeests at the park, which signifies kick-off of the usual migration season,” said Mr Kuyioni.
Last week, Tunai waived park fees for two days as a way of boosting local tourism.
Kuyioni said nearly 1,000 domestic tourists had taken advantage of the gesture and accessed the Mara on June 1 and 2.
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