Tourists defy election jitters, flock to Mara

Thursday, August 18th, 2022 02:36 | By
Wildebeest herds migrate around Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park into the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok. Photo/File

Both local and International tourists have shrugged off jittery polls to flock to Kenya’s star destination – Masai Mara Game Reserve – to watch the ongoing wildebeest migration.

Since July, the business has been booming during the electioneering period, to the point of overwhelming lodges and tented camps, forcing their managers to seek extra accommodation outside. Brushing aside fears of potential violence during the elections, the visitors poured into the country in droves for a chance of witnessing the huffing and snorting of the Gnu’s as they mate and the big kill by the big cats.

East Africa Tour Drivers and Guides Association Secretary Felix Migoya told Business Hub that there was full capacity, in large part because of safari-lovers hoping to see the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest that run the gauntlet of hungry crocodiles as they cross the Mara River on a daily basis.

He said elections, often a fraught and tense occasion in Kenya, as they are being held on August 9 which coincide with the tourists peak season.

“We have not yet had any cancellation, and we trust that the climate of electoral nervousness that is breathed will remain confined in political environments and judicial limits, and will not go down the streets and let us build the economy and flourish the tourism sector,” said Migoya, a seasoned tour driver for over 20 years. World influencers and celebrities including Formula One race Lewis Hamilton were among the visitors who shrugged the elections anxieties and came for a three-day holiday to the Masai Mara.

World champion

Business Hub understands that the seven-time world champion toured a number of areas in the country including the Masai Mara Reserve where he witnessed this year’s Great Wildebeest Migration.

The British superstar, currently driving for Mercedes, is said to have been accompanied by close associates, including friends and family. Besides his exploits on the Formula One track, Hamilton is a prominent advocate in support of activism to combat racism and push for increased diversity in motorsport.

He was listed in the 2020 issue of Time as one of the 100 most influential people globally and was knighted in the 2021 New Year Honors.

Oldarpoi Mara camp CEO Nelson ole Reyia said the facility was fully booked throughout the election period and still fully booked to October.

“The tourists who are mainly international visitors are happy that Kenya is maturing as a democracy and has created enough democratic space for its citizens which is respected globally, and the tourists have nothing to fear,” he said.  

“We are at full capacity in terms of business through the months of July and August, and the tourists were really impressed by the mature democracy witnessed in this election and let it prevail at all times” ole Reyia added.

Masai Mara Chief warden James Sindiyio said hordes of tourists are still flocking the reserve with the majority being international tourists and expecting the phenomena to extend to the Christmas season.

“So far the election campaign has been conducted in a respectful and civilized manner, and from what we are receiving from the hotels they are generally working this year by 100 to 120 per cent more than any other year between 2018 to 2022, he said.

The annual wildebeest migration from Serengeti in Tanzania to Maasai Mara is one of the greatest natural spectacles and the eighth wonder of the world. Daniel Karino a tour guide in the reserve said the millions of wildebeests also known as gnu, the stocky, ox-like African antelope with a drooping mane and beard, a long tufted tail and curved horns are the main attraction mostly to photographers and filmmakers.

“The migration takes place across 200,000 square miles of woodland, hills and open plains that form the wilderness across the two reserves and 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 Karino.

Greener pastures

Currently the Gnu’s are meandering across the savanna but always 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 witnessing dramatic scenes because of the tall grass that gives the hunting cats ample scenes to camouflage.

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