How Masai Mara is fast losing prestige to human activities

Thursday, September 9th, 2021 00:00 |
Ground-breaking ceremony for the rehabilitation and upgrade of Angama Mara Airstrip, within the Masai Mara National Reserve in August. In attendance Principal Secretaries Safina Kwekwe (Tourism), Solomon Kitungu (Transport) and Charles Sunkuli (Youth Affairs). Photo/KNA

The ongoing construction of a military facility on more than 4,000 acre land in Masai Mara National Reserve, proposed construction of an international airport, haphazard mushrooming of tourism facilities among other developments are fast killing the world famous game reserve.

Already, hundreds of acres of land that was once wildlife habitats and migratory corridors have been fenced and are now large scale wheat and maize farms, restricting wildlife to a small area which continues to dwindle every day.

Other available spaces have been turned into grazing and charcoal burning fields as wild animals move out.

These developments have left wildlife conservationists, ecologists and also hoteliers in the park  concerned as they stare in disbelief as the activities threaten survival of their investments.

The defunct Narok and Trans-Mara county councils used to remit 19 per cent of annual tourism proceeds to members of the group ranches to dissuade them from changing land use and to help in conserving the biodiversity.

But still, the amount the councils used to collect in tariffs and fees was a closely guarded secret.

Statistics from independent sources indicate both councils used collect about Sh5 billion but  the ranches combined pocketed less than Sh1 billion.

Things, however, started to fall apart when the sprawling ranches were subdivided and owners given title deeds.

Some sold their parcels, others leased them to private investors with interests in hotel business and others decided to turn theirs into wildlife conservancies.

Migratory corridors

The developments led to fencing that  restricted wild animals movements, establishment of many hotels within the migratory corridors, farming among other unchecked human activities that are detrimental to the survival of the jewel.

Conservationists say that because of fencing and other human activities, more than 100,000 resident wildebeests from Loita plains cannot access northern Mara. 

Establishment of lodges and camps along Mara and Talek rivers have also affected wildebeests migration. Kenyans were in August last year shocked when employees of a tented camp along the Mara River chased hundreds of wildebeests that had crossed to access one side of the reserve, illustrating that their migratory paths were getting smaller every year because of uncontrolled developments.

Conservationists say it is impossible to check the runaway human-conflict, which leads to persecution and killing of wild animals.

They say absence of benefit sharing is also responsible for killing of wild animals and changes in land use.

Dickson Kaelo, chief executive of Kenya Conservation Association says the expansive Olkinyei area where the military facility is located is a maternity for the Loita plains based wildebeests.

“If efforts to restore the past glory of the Mara will not bear fruits, we will be forced to kiss it goodbye,” he says.

The county government and local leadership should ensure they sign short term and rewarding land leases with the investors, he says.

“Most leases are long term. Some more than 32 years. Local l leaders should see to it that they do not get raw deals,” he adds.

Besides the military and hoteliers, politicians, business magnates among other prominent personalities are the beneficiaries of the runaway land sale in the reserve.

Ecologists say the happenings in the famed reserve are responsible for disappearance of certain wildlife species.

Nick Murero, the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem Coordinator for Lake Victoria Basin says uncontrolled developments have aided human-wildlife conflict.

“Mara is fast losing its prestige to Serengeti because of developments that unfortunately, both local and national governments are abetting,” he says.

Bitterly opposed

The scramble of land, he notes, is now being fuelled by the completion of upgrading the Narok-Sekenani Gate road to bitumen, claiming that prices of land, especially along the road have in the last two years spiralled as locals disposed them of.

Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta and a group of conservationists bitterly opposed the construction of the military facility.

They said it would accelerate the demise of the reserve as a world favoured safari destination. They urged the government to reconsider the decision for the sake of tourism and local economic gains.

Despite the environmental and conservation concerns, the National Land Commission gazetted the commencement of the construction, dealing a severe blow to the future of the jewel.

In the past, Narok Governor Samuel Tunai was against the haphazard setting up of tourist establishments without giving due attention to environmental and conservation issues and threatened to demolish facilities that were set up without the county approval.

Tunai said one of the solution to decongest the Mara was to discourage mass tourism and instead have visitors book vacations months in advance just like those who go view mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. 

More on News