Kenya: Ravaging Wildfires Halt Migration of Wildebeest Into the Masai Mara

Hundreds of acres of vegetation on the wildebeest migratory routes along the Sand River crossing points in northern Tanzania are on fire and have pushed back wildlife.

The inferno, which has lasted a week, has halted the wildebeest migration that began in mid-June, with sources saying the fires are being lit by Narok County rangers in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Details of the fires are scanty, but reports indicate that the Tanzanian and Narok officials had sought to burn bushes and tall grass to aid regeneration of pastures in the area.

East Africa Tour Drivers and Guides Association in the Mara, led by their association secretary, Mr Felix Migoya, chairman Jefferson Mwadime and CEO Kennedy Kaunda said the fires have interrupted or delayed the migration of millions of wildebeest -- a world-renowned spectacle -- that had started two weeks ago, but suddenly stopped due to the fires.


There have been no tourists to witness the spectacle, however, due to the closure of hotels because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than two million wildebeest cross over to Kenya from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania every year. The annual migration begins in the south of the Serengeti, where more than 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.

According to Mr Migoya, who was in the team that visited the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem to track down the migration and monitor where the wildebeest have reached ahead of the reopening of the economy, the fires and smoke were affecting animals' movement.

Mr Migoya said the billows of smoke and fire were experienced around the Serengeti in the northern parts of the park and hundreds of acres were being ravaged on the Mara side of the ecosystem.

"It's currently misty on the Serengeti side as a result of smoke from the fires that have been razing the ecosystem. A few animals that can be spotted on the other side may be escaping the looming danger," he said.

Addressing the press at the Sand River crossing point on the Kenya-Tanzania border, he said the fire has scared off the wildebeest from crossing to the Maasai Mara side.


He also worried that it might have killed hundreds of smaller animals that live under the grass or burrow underground like snakes, squirrels, rabbits, birds and lizards.

A tour driver, Mr Lemayian Taruru described the situation as appalling.

Mr Taruru said inasmuch as the delay could be attributed to the long rains, which have kept the pastures greener on the Tanzanian side, the burning of grass has aggravated the situation.

"Because it is nature, migration will finally take place, although it might be late. A lot of wildebeest and zebras have been spotted converging in large numbers near the crossing points," he said.

However, Maasai Mara County administrator Christine Dapash said the tall lush grass in the park has made it hard for the lions to hunt as it is difficult for them to sight their prey, leaving them to starve.

Ms Dapash, who held a meeting with the officials of the association at the Zebra Plains Tented Lodge on Monday, said: "After more than seven months of continuous heavy rains, the savannah is now abundant with lush green grass, which has grown very tall, pushing wildlife away from the reserve to other dispersal areas with short grass" she said.

"Medium-sized grazers like gazelles, elands, wildebeest and zebras, which are a favourite meal for the lions, prefer shorter grass and have, therefore, migrated to the conservancies," she added.

Ecologists said that contrary to the idea that grazers like gazelles, topis and zebras enjoy the tall grass during rainy seasons, they actually dislike it as it exposes them to predators.

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