The annual wildebeest migration from Tanzania’s Serengeti national park to Kenya’s world-famous Maasai Mara wildlife sanctuary is being threatened by raging waters at the swollen Mara River, officials said on Wednesday.
James Sindiyo, Mara Wildlife Reserve’s chief warden, said that heavy rains that started in September 2019 have raised the water levels in Mara River making it difficult for the animals to identify the shallow crossing points.
“The wildebeest cross safely when the river has shallow water. And that is when there is low rain for three consecutive years,” Sindiyo told Xinhua in a telephone interview.
“But the river is now swollen because of the long rains and the wildebeest are usually carried away when the current is strong,” he added.
Sindiyo said that 300 of nearly 2.4 million wildebeest that have crossed into Mara from Serengeti drowned on Aug. 23 when they attempted to jump over a swollen section of Mara River.
He said the crossing point was steep and challenging for the animals to swim over due to the raging waters.
“There is however nothing alarming about drowning of the 300 wildebeests. It is a natural process and there are times they die over 1,000 or more,” said Sindiyo.
He said a negligible number of wildebeests is lost during the migration process since 99.9 percent of them cross the Mara River safely.
“Wildebeests are good swimmers and they really fight their way out of the high waters and strong current,” said Sindiyo.
He said that domestic tourists are visiting Mara wildlife reserve to enjoy the spectacle of the wildebeests grazing around the plains or crisscrossing the Mara River.
The chief warder said that in the past seven weeks since President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted a ban on cross-county movements, locals and diplomats have been making their way into the wildlife sanctuary.