17 September 2012

Tanzania: Modern Life 'Puts Off Wildebeests At Maasai Mara'

Arusha — INCREASING human activities on the Kenyan side of the Serengeti Eco-system is likely to discourage wildebeests from going to Maasai Mara in future as they have been doing for years in their annual migration forays.

This assumption stems from the sudden change in the animals' migratory patterns when, instead of spending two months in Kenya's Maasai Mara, they stayed there for only three weeks and rushed back to Tanzania.

Mr Seth Mihayo, a tourism Conservationist at Serengeti National Park, warned that the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, which is the recipient of the migrating wildebeests from Tanzania, is currently experiencing mushrooming hotel premises.

The game sanctuary also experiences increased human activities such as cattle grazing and natural green cover is almost depleted.

"Wildebeests usually travel in groups but a single car or a group of people is enough to stop the entire herd causing them to change their route.

"You can then imagine the effect of the presence of massive buildings, numerous motor vehicles and domestic animals cutting across their paths," pointed out Mr Mihayo. On his part, Dr James Wakibara, an ecologist at Serengeti, explained that until now no scientist or researcher has been able to find out what exactly causes the 1.5 million-strong herd of wildebeests and the nearly 300,000 zebras to migrate from Tanzania to Kenya.

The herd also comprises gazelles and other browsers and grazers. "Shortage of food and water or the presence of predators could be the possible driving forces that are likely to cause the massive movement of the wild animals. However, these assumptions have never been proved. The sudden, untimely return of the migratory wild animals to Tanzania, from Kenya, has left scientists baffled. "This sudden behavioural change needs to be studied closely," says Dr Wakibara.

The ecologist admits that it is not normal for the wild animals to cut short their stay in Kenya and rush back home in the Serengeti National Park. A Public Relations Manager with Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa), Mr Paschal Shelutete, pointed out that in the past the animals used to go to as far as Maswa Game Reserve in Meatu District of Shinyanga in their southward annual migration.

"But this is no longer the case today," he says. The migrating animals cut short their stay in Maasai Mara and started an untimely journey to the south. This time some of the travelling animals reached Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Experts in animal behaviour believe that human activities in Maswa District may have frightened the animals.

The Executive Secretary of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Mr Mustafa Akonaay, said that he believed that climate change had something to do with this sudden change in the behaviour of migrating animals. "Since it has happened for the first time this year, we may have to wait until next year to see if the same pattern is repeated.

"Then, as tour operators, we will change our programme calendars and fliers to inform the entire world that the Serengeti wildlife migration times and patterns have changed," said Mr Akoonay. The TATO executive also admitted to have heard and even received concerns regarding the environment destruction on the Kenyan side of the Serengeti Eco-system. He cautioned that the phenomenon is likely to affect future migrations.

"But here at TATO we are not worried because the animals will remain in Tanzania and this means that all tourists will be coming here instead of going to Kenya," concluded Mr Akonaay.

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