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Pressure on park as pandemic keeps tourists away

Agencies | Updated: 2020-08-11 07:59

The annual migration of wildebeest from the Serengeti National park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara national reserve in Kenya is seen from a drone in the Maasai Mara in late July. Photo/Agencies

MAASAI MARA, Kenya-One of nature's most spectacular sights, East Africa's great wildebeest migration, went largely unwatched by tourists this year as the effects of the novel coronavirus have spread even to the continent's wilderness.

Travel restrictions kept tourists away for the annual wildlife migration in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve and only a handful of guides and park wardens were there to watch thousands of wildebeest antelopes make their famous trek in search of new grazing pastures.

Tour guide Milton Siloma has worked in the world-famous reserve on Kenya's southern border for 30 years and says he's never seen it so quiet.

"We are alone," he says. "We are supposed to have thousands and thousands of tourists around watching this natural phenomenon."

Although the absence of tourists makes little difference to the giant herd of wildebeest moving between Kenya and neighboring Tanzania, it's a serious problem for the park, the local government and the surrounding community.

Without tourists there is no income from park entry fees, scenic hot air balloon rides-a specialty of the park-or the tourist lodges.

"The virus has affected many of the operations for us here in the reserve. The revenue, the funds, that the county government is collecting from the Maasai Mara National Reserve is zero now," says chief warden James Sindiyo.

The effect for the people who live on the edge of the park and who rely on tourism is also significant. Kadele Kasare, one of the local Maasai people, says they depend on the money they earn from visitors.

"The biggest problem is food," he says. "We are not getting enough food. At times when there is no money from tourists, we usually sell our cows. But now even the market is closed. So, we are facing a lot of difficulties."

That has also started to harm the park. Chief warden Sindiyo says some hungry community members have begun to illegally hunt animals in the park for meat and there have been a number of arrests.

"They kill just because they are desperate to eat," Sindiyo says.

The wardens fear a larger problem could be on the horizon-poachers trying to take advantage of the situation by targeting the Maasai Mara's elephants or endangered rhinos.


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