Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Observing Wonders of Serengeti in Sight

Arusha — THE annual wildebeest migration is here again but for the first time, this massive movement of large mammals seems to have hit a pot of major controversy.

Various Kenyan media outlets went wild last week with reports claiming that Tanzania was barricading this year's legendary mass movement of wildebeests and zebras from entering Kenya's Maasai Mara by blocking the animals at Serengeti.

Unfortunately the 'reporters' on the other side of the border have never witnessed such a migration, otherwise they would have understood that it was next to impossible to attempt to block nearly two million large mammals travelling in unison and at high speed.

Still the Kenyan media tried to dramatize their explanation of the alleged blockade to the effect that, authorities at Serengeti National Park, were setting ablaze the bushes along the ungulates' routes and the resulting flames were preventing the animals from crossing from Tanzania's plains into Maasai-Mara in Kenya.

The 'Serengeti Migration,' also known as the 'Great Migration,' usually starts at the base of 'Gol' Mountains in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and this natural phenomenon is usually determined by the availability of fresh grass for grazing.

Between January and March of every year, is the time when the calving season for the herbivores begins. This is a period when due to the November and December rains, the area gets carpeted to the horizon, with plenty of fresh grass.

The Conservation Manager at NCAA Mr Amiyo T. Amiyo explained that, in this area of Gol Mountains, around 1.2 million wildebeests, 750,000 Zebra with hundreds of antelopes gather for the whole of the first two months of the year to graze and give birth to new calves.

At least 500,000 newborn calves get to see the light of the day during the February's ungulates' camping and breeding season in Ngorongoro and the reproduction events normally last for up to three weeks in February. Three months later, when the newborn herbivores are strong enough to endure the trek, the Zebras lead the way as millions of wildebeests make the rear.

This is after the monsoon rains have abated in May when the migration starts moving towards the North-west direction. The millions of herbivores never trek alone, antelopes also try to mix themselves into the large movement for protection while scavengers like hyenas or aged carnivores also follow behind ready to feed onto the animals that may drop dead due to fatigue or other calamities that befell them en-route.

The scavengers, which includes even aerial ones like vultures, are usually amply catered for because it is reported that around 250,000 wildebeest and Zebras die during the 'Great Migration' a journey covering more than 800 kilometres from Ngorongoro via Serengeti in Tanzania and crossing onto Maasai Mara Reserve in (South of) Kenya.

This time (July) the millions of wildebeests, zebras and elands that have been grazing around the Grumeti River in Serengeti throughout June will be starting their main exodus from the plains heading further North.

The ungulates will be arriving on the Kenya-Tanzania border in early August and their stay in Maasai-Mara will last only two months because the migration will once more be moving back to Tanzania in late October and their major gathering is expected in Serengeti by November.

Later, as the short (Vuli) rains start their precipitation, the herbivores will start their major trek again heading South to Ngorongoro where they are to arrive in time for 'Christmas,' in December, ready for the next round of breeding set for February 2013.

With such a migratory circle now very clear, the Tanzania National Parks' Public Relations Manager, Mr Paschal Shelutete wonders why some Kenyan media reached the conclusion that Tanzania wanted to block the animals' movement.

"It is important for the herbivores to migrate from one point to another in order to avoid cases of inbreeding," explained Mr Shelutete adding that the wildebeests spend only two months in Kenya with the rest of 10 months in Tanzania.

The TANAPA official also explained about the fires that Kenya claimed that they were being lit to scare the animals from crossing into Maasai-Mara saying it was scientifically as 'Early Burning,' executed under the General Management Plan of Serengeti National Park.

"This is type of fire which is set early while grasses are still green is known as 'early burning'. The fire is practiced for several reasons which include reducing number of destructive insect such as tsetse fly; it is also set to reduce amount of litter that can catalyze fire during dry season," he said.

In 2010 and 2011 Kenya's media and the country's green activists were lashing Tanzania over the planned construction of Arusha-Musoma highway via Serengeti claiming the road will affect wildlife around the corridor.

In 2009 Kenya pointed fingers southwards, following the closure of 'Bologonja' entrance where Serengeti bordered Maasai Mara through which alien tour operators used to infiltrate into Tanzania without following regulations. Now for the first time, the accusations are targeting the legendary migrations.

Being staunch competitors in Tourism Industry, Tanzania and Kenya may not come to terms easily where matters of wildlife are concerned but especially at the point where the two countries share the bounty of Serengeti animals. Still, despite the yearly fabricated rumours from across the border; the mighty Serengeti is not just about to die!

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