Annual spectacle recognised as the Seventh Wonder of the World has begun.
The huffing and snorting came alive as the first batch of wildebeests crossed from Serengeti National Reserve in Tanzania, into the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, kicking off the annual spectacular great migration.
The beasts crossed the Sand River Gate crossing point on Saturday 2nd July in the spectacle witnessed by dozens of tourists and tour operators.
According to hoteliers in the Mara, this year’s migration started earlier than expected. It is the world’s largest migration involving over two million animals in search of greener pastures in Kenya. It usually starts in July and ends in October.
Also known as the gnu, the stocky, oxlike African antelope with a drooping mane and beard, a long tufted tail and curved horns made a grand entry into the Mara at the weekend, accompanied by zebras, all stampeding across the River Gate tributary.
With this, the Mara’s annual tourism peak season had started. Hoteliers described bookings for this year’s event as “impressive”.
Last week, a convoy of 40 vehicles transporting about 300 Chinese tourists arrived at the park and more visitors are expected later in the season.
The migrating wildebeests are now headed northwards towards River Talek, where they graze and mate every year on their endless journey of chasing greener pastures.
Sarova Mara Camp tour driver-cum-guide, Mr Daniel ole Soit said the migration takes place across 150,000 square miles of woodland, hills and open plains that form the wilderness across the two reserves.
Mr Soit, who has been in the industry for the past 16 years, said the yearly cycle begins in the south of Serengeti, where half a million calves are born between January and March. But when the rains end in May, the land dries fast and the grazers must move on, heading for their dry season refuge in the Mara.
From July to October—the main tourist season, when visitors flock in to watch the dramatic river crossings—the wildebeests meander between the western and eastern sides of the river, crossing it at different points almost daily.
Lodges and camps in the game reserve are receiving abundant bookings, especially by international visitors, and the numbers are expected to rise through the month.
“News of the migration will certainly elicit interest that will see the number of tourists swell,” said Sentinel Mara camp head guide Duncan Kirorokorr.
The migration also brings with it lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and other carnivores that prey on the wildebeests.
Conservationists say the wildebeests could stay longer than during other seasons because the Mara is now full of grass and other fodder.
Narok Governor Samuel Tunai termed the arrival of the animals a shot in the arm for the county’s tourism sector as most hotels in the reserve are already recording impressive booking.
Mr Tunai also saw last month’s withdrawal of travel advisories by the British Government as a boost to the annual event. The Mara is already experiencing good bookings following the lifting of the advisories, which ended a two-year wait for Kenya. Mr Tunai assured visitors of increased security.
Curio dealers in Narok are also anticipating good returns, with some who closed their businesses three seasons ago indicating they will reopen.