Tourists keen on wildlife safaris despite floods

Friday, December 13th, 2019 00:00 |
One of the two tourist vans that were swept away by floodwaters in Meru National Park. Three tourists and their driver escaped unhurt. Photo/COURTESY

Rains render the Mara, Samburu and other parks’ aircraft landing points and game drives inaccessible, with some airstrips and bush tracks flooding, but visitors show unprecedented resilience

Harriet James and Peter Leshan 

The current rains are a blessing to herbivores in national parks but are hampering access to some favourite game viewing points. 

Heavy rains in Amboseli, Masai Mara and Samburu reserves and the Serengeti park in Tanzania are making game drives in some locations difficult after designated bush tracks for wildlife viewing were flooded.

Consequently, some wild animals have also moved from swamps and lower parts of the parks—which are waterlogged—to higher grounds, frustrating some expeditions. . 

“In this rainy season, we warn drivers not to drive off road and to desist from driving across swollen rivers, amongst other precautionary measures,” says Ngugi Gecaga, acting head of communications, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). 

However, many visitors are determined to enjoy holidays in the parks, with UK tourists expected  to arrive this weekend after voting during their country’s general election. 

Tented camps

Air operators say guests may not always land nearest their destinations. “Some airstrips are flooded once in a while, such as Ol Kiombo in the Mara; we have to divert to the nearest, alternative landing strip.

Kimana Gate entrance to Amboseli park on Emali-Oloitoktok road was submerged last week. KWS closed the Amboseli airstrip yesterday due to flooding. COURTESY

Amboseli airstrip is tarmacked and fine, but we have to monitor Samburu as some landing points are wet,” said one pilot.  Yesterday, KWS closed the Amboseli airstrip.   

KWS says roads in Amboseli have been adversely affected and the main Kimana Gate rendered impassable. All visitors to the park are advised to seek guidance on the roads status via hotline number 0716493335.

Heavy rains pounding the Mara have flooded game viewing paths too, making early morning game viewing difficult.

The recurrent floods have also forced some wild animals to moved to settlement areas, fueling  fears of human-wildlife conflict.

A few lodges and tented camps in lower areas of the sprawling reserve have remained flooded in the last week, forcing their owners to relocate clients to other facilities.

Guests remained in the camps, hoping to go out for game viewing early in the evening once the floods petered out.  

“Sometimes we are forced to suspend game drives because of floods. It was impossible to drive through flooded and muddy roads and paths,” said Theophilus Shumwe, general manager at Tipilikwani Camp.  

Despite the mud, camp managers are working out ways to ensure guests have the best holiday experience. At Nashulai Conservancy, residents have managed to plant many trees. 

A hippo romps in a temporary pool in the Masai Mara. Photo/COURTESY

“It’s raining a lot in the Mara, the land is lush green and the rivers are overflowing with water,” says Nelson Ole Reiya, founder of Nashulai Masaai Conservancy and Oldarpoi Mara Camp.  

“There is also wildlife to be seen alongside the main roads within the park so the rains have not affected game drives,” he adds. 

To keep guests warm, the camp lights bonfires every evening where guests share stories and music. Traditional dances  spice up the evenings too. 

Nicole Hankar, General Manager of Last Minute Mara says while there are some areas in the Mara experiencing rain, some areas have not been affected. 

“The Mara is much bigger than many people realise and the amount of rainfall varies across the region. So the rain has been a blessing in the areas where there had been little rain, but in other areas, it’s been a disaster,” she says. 

Heavy rains are being experienced in Samburu too. Normally, it’s usually hot and dry during the day but cold at night. 

“There is currently plenty of rain in Samburu. However, it has not affected the game drives, because it rains in the evenings but it’s sunny in the morning,” says Nahim from Lion King Camp. 

Several hotels near River Ewaso Nyiro in Samburu have been affected by the floods after the river broke its banks. Most of the tourists, as well as hotel owners, were caught unawares as the floods crept in their tents, destroying valuables. 

These include Elephant Bedroom Camp,  Ashnil, Sarova Shaba as well as Larsens camps. However, others on higher ground havent been affected by the floods.

Also affected is the Central region, where landslides and mudslides have been reported in some parts. Just recently, KWS rangers in Meru National Park received a distress call from the manager of Elsa’s Kopje Lodge after a tourist van was swept away by water while crossing River Rojeweru. Three tourists and their driver were safely evacuated. 

Northern Kenya

“On arrival at the scene, we found the vehicle had turned over several times and was about 40 to 50 metres away from the drift. We managed to put a harness and stop it from being carried any further.

We also mobilised a park tractor when we realised that two vehicles couldn’t get the stricken van out of water,” KWS said in a report. 

“The team tried its level best and at by 4pm, managed to turn the vehicle to stand on its wheels but still in the river. 

Water volumes too had subsided by 5pm and we managed to get the vehicle out of water and out of the river. The van  was then towed to the lodge garage,” said the KWS.

 KWS says they are doing their best to ensure that travellers are safe during the festivities, but urges travellers to be vigilant. “We endeavour give them the necessary information at the gates to the parks.

Take our emergency number. Don’t get out of cars if stuck. Always ensure you put on your hazard lights. Stick to the main roads otherwise you’ll get stuck,” he says. 

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