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Serengeti gains as political jitters hit Masai Mara

Hotels in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park are set to reap from cancellations by tourists destined for Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve during the July-September peak season.

Many visitors bound for the Mara are likely to stay away in fear of violence before and immediately after the General Election. International tour operators say clients might snub the country between now and October when it will be clear which political path the country will be taking.

“Overseas travel companies indicate their clients will opt for the neighbouring Serengeti because of safety concerns. They will watch wildebeest migration from the Tanzania side,” says Bernard Kipeno, the secretary, Mara Managers Forum.

Hoteliers in the Mara say virtually all establishments including exclusive lodges and tented camps will operate below capacity during the May-July low season.

Already, about 30 mobile camps which operate inside and outside (especially from within Siana Conservancy east of the park) will not be in business in the peak season.

“Most camps here have closed due to lack of business. We have to come to terms with the fact that a big number of tourists will not be coming for safaris between now and after elections,” says Sekerot Mpeti, proprietor of Migwara Camp within the conservancy. He is contemplating closing until he sees “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

The first group of about 700,000 wildebeests are expected to cross Mara River from Serengeti to Mara early in July. Ecologists say wildebeests accompanied by hundreds of zebras will stay in the Mara up to late October because, unlike last year when drought hit most parts of Kenya, there is likely be enough fodder to feed on.

“The ongoing heavy rains that started last month have aided faster regeneration. Grass inside and outside the park will be enough for them and their calves,” says Kevin Gichangi, the World Wide Fund (WWF) Mara River Basin manager. Kipeno says low arrivals will also affect curio dealers and livelihoods of hundreds of people who directly or indirectly depend on tourism.

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