Bleak future for million dollar Mara River


Bleak future for million dollar Mara River

For decades, the country has been grappling with how to save the Mau Forest and now there is a red alert over the popular wildebeest migration.

Land fragmentation and wanton tree cutting are the order of the day have contributed in a big way to the drying Mara River.

Not even the changing weather patterns or depleted water sources seem to be enough of a warning.

A trip to the Mara Forest took us to Enapuipui, the main source of Mara River.

The now depleted water source had its tributaries at Amala and Rongai Rivers but what is left are only traces of the former.

Kenya’s tourism sector is hanging on a thread: it relies heavily on the wildebeest migration.

The spectacle tagged as one of the seven new wonders of the world, has in the past been generating millions of dollars to the country’s economy.

Over two million wildebeests would cross from Tanzania to Kenya in search of pasture and water.

Since time immemorial, the migration through the Mara River has attracted tourists from different parts of the world including United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan and China.

It would occur regularly from July to September but last year, the migration delayed.

Wildebeests (connochaetes taurinus) cross the Mara river during their migration to the greener pastures, between the Maasai Mara game reserve and the open plains of the Serengeti, southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Wildebeests (connochaetes taurinus) cross the Mara river during their migration to the greener pastures, between the Maasai Mara game reserve and the open plains of the Serengeti, southwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

 

Kenyan Government officials claimed that the gnus had found plenty of pasture in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

There were claims that Tanzanians had lit fires in the forest to delay the migration.

A BBC report said Tanzania had denied the claims by Kenyan tour operators.

However, locals insist that the drying Mara River is the cause of all this.

“The source has never dried up since I was born…. this has been witnessed from the beginning of this year and it is very worrying,” 43-year-old Stephen Ambiki says.

Ambiki, who was born in Enapuipui, narrates how the water levels at this main source have been receding.

According to him, residents have to walk for up to 2km to fetch water akin to those in dry parts of the country.

He adds that the climate in the region has also been affected as they bear the brunt of hotter and dryer seasons, something he says was unknown to them.

Kiprotich Kelo
Kiprotich Kelo

An irate Kiprotich Kelo also blames it on tree cutting and says leaders have made the situation worse by politicising it.

“This is the source of the Mara and the migration of wilder beasts depends on this yet only a few individuals are benefiting from the cutting down of trees,” laments the 73-year-old.

“The politics surrounding it (the Mau Forest) is not only destroying our lives but those of future generations as well. This source has been free from human activity not only from my childhood but from my father’s time as well,”he adds.

Source of Mara river, Mau

Joseph Lesinguu, chairman Community Forest Association also sees the problem aggravated by the newly planted trees.

“This source was surrounded by trees and the water was a lot but when the indigenous trees were cut and exotic ones planted it has affected the water source,” said Lesinguu.

Although the weatherman predicts more rains, it may not be enough to change the situation of tree cutting continues.

The community is however working with Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) to plant bamboo trees in efforts to restore the troubled complex.

The government is still struggling with evictions in the Mau after the exercise took a political twist.

The move sparked a heated debate across the country with agencies involved of conducting the exercise being accused of bias.

In July last year, about 12,000 acres of encroached land had been recovered with over 8,000 people evicted.

The unending wrangles over this vast canopy, that was gazetted as a forest reserve way back in 1954, continue to cloud interventions to save the one million dollar Mara River, leaving it as one of the most threatened blocks of the entire Mau forest complex.

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Story By Wangui Ngechu
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