Optimism ahead of annual Mara wildebeest migration
Masai Mara Game Reserve is getting ready to receive tourists expected to start trooping in ahead of the wildebeests migration that is expected to start any time now.
The migration, described as one of the wonders of the modern world, starts in the Serengeti plains in Tanzania from where the wildebeests move in large numbers in search of grass in Kenya’s Masai Mara.
It is expected to come as a shot in the arm of tourism, which has been struggling to recover from the shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years.
According to Masai Mara Hotel Managers’ Association chairman James ole Pere, most lodges and camps have already started accepting advance bookings ahead of the peak season expected to last until end of August when the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest expected to troop back to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
The movement of the bearded wildebeest, or brindled gnu, as they make their way through the Mara River crossing points and their grazing in the Mara savanna attracts over 700,000 tourists - both local and foreign annually.
Wildlife photographer Antony Tira said between July and October will be characterised by drama as the gnus mate to regenerate and are hunted down by the big cats, especially lions, not to mention the breathtaking crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River as herds migrate western towards the Mara triangle and back.
The herds are later expected to migrate North of the Mara triangle, crossing westwards into the plains North of the Mara River, towards Talek and Sikinani then towards Mara North, Nashulai and neighbouring conservancies outside the 1,510 square km of the protected area.
“For the first time after the opening of the airspace after the Covid-19 pandemic over 90 percent of the visitors doing bookings are international tourists. We expect more arrivals from next week,” said Pere, who is also the manager of the Keekorok Lodge.
According to Pere, most of the visitors this year are from the traditional source markets of the UK, US, France, Italy, Germany and South Africa. He said the season looks promising to hoteliers as bookings from ‘incentives groups’, groups that came in big numbers a year ago have started arriving. This group are not only interested in wildlife watching but they come for bush dinners, sun downers, honeymoons and hot air balloon safaris.
Another good indicator of the hospitality industry bouncing back is in the increase of the number of vehicles from tour companies into the reserve. At the height of Covid-19, many tour firms downsized or closed but some like Pollmans, Somak and Rhino Safaris have increased traffic into the national reserve. Most of the vehicles are meant for long tour circuits across East Africa – not just Kenya.
Similarly, the number of flights which who pick and drop passengers from the Mara’s six airstrips have increased with a notable presence of airlines like Safarilink and Air Kenya, which now fly into the reserve twice a day.
Tourism stakeholders remain optimistic about the peak season despite the uncertainty caused by the prevailing political campaigns season, with elections slated for August 9.
Olare Mara Kempinski Masai Mara manager Fairman Muhingi expressed optimism that the number of arrivals will remain high until October if the General Election will be conducted peacefully.
“The season looks impressive and we are optimistic that it will overcome the political wave of the General Election that will happen in the heart of the tourist peak season,” said Muhingi.
East Africa Tour Drivers and Guides Association (EATDGA) secretary Felix Migoya said they were already in business ferrying international tourists to different destinations and hope elections will be peaceful and will not interrupt business.