By George Sayagie
Maasai Mara National Reserve came to life as the annual wildebeest migration season kicked off on Wednesday.
Most hotels in the world famous reserve are fully booked and Nation on Wednesday learnt that bookings were turned down, with the business boom expected to last for the next two months.
The wildebeests crossed the Sand River Gate point on Tuesday evening after delays for over two weeks due to wildfires at Northern Serengeti in Tanzania.
This means Maasai Mara’s annual tourism peak season has started. “News of the migration will certainly elicit curiosity that will see the number of tourists in the region swell,” said tour operator Nawaza Tuneja, who was guiding a group of Europeans in the reserve.
The annual wildebeest migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania to Maasai Mara is one of the greatest natural spectacles and the eighth wonder of the world.
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 migration lights up tourism in the reserve with the huffing and snorting of the animals as they migrate kicking off the annual spectacle.
Also known as gnu, the stocky, oxlike African antelope with a drooping mane and beard, a long tufted tail and curved horns is usually accompanied by zebras, all stampeding across the River Gate tributary into the Mara.
Mr Daniel ole Soit a tour guide and driver at Sarova Mara camp, said the migration takes place across 200,000 square miles of woodland, hills and open plains that form the wilderness across the two reserves.
“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 or June, the land dries fast and the grazers must move on, heading for their dry season refuge in the Mara,” said Mr Soit.
The migrating wildebeests would be headed northwards towards River Talek, where they graze and mate every year on their endless journey of chasing greener pastures.
The migration also brings with it lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and other carnivores that prey on the wildebeests, with wildlife lovers expecting dramatic scenes because of the tall grass that would give the hunting cats ample scenes to camouflage.
Hoteliers described bookings for this year’s event as “extraordinary” with the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga being attributed to the high tourist numbers.
Sarova Mara manager Duncan Mwangi and his Keekorok lodge counterpart James Pere said lodges and camps are receiving abundant bookings, especially by international visitors and the numbers are expected to rise through the month.
“We are having a near-full capacity in terms of business through the months of June, July and August and so far we haven’t witnessed any cancellations or other challenges,” said Mr Mwangi.
From July to October the wildebeests move between the western and eastern sides of the river, crossing it at different points almost daily.
Conservationists say the wildebeests could stay longer than other seasons because the Mara is now full of grass and other fodder.
However, survival of wild animals in the reserve is threatened by shrinking rivers. “We are optimistic the evictions in the Mau will ensure the Mara River’s survival,” said Mara-Serengeti ecosystem coordinator Nick ole Murero.