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Bushfires now delay wildebeest departures to Tanzania side

Wildebeests in the Masai Mara have delayed their departure to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania as the Narok county government continues with controlled burning of grass to aid regeneration. The gnus are almost a month late in departure that annually ends the July-September tourism peak season in Masai Mara.

Hoteliers have welcomed the county decision, saying it is a boon to their businesses. Grass and vegetation regeneration are being aided by the on-going light rains in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

Some hotels are teeming with visitors who arrived late just to watch wildebeests whose presence attracts a big number of carnivores, especially the cat family.“It is the first time they have delayed and their presence is a big boost for us,” says James Koileken, manager, Simba Mara Lodge.

He says most lodges and camps inside the park are doing brisk business, putting bed occupancy at an average of 60 per cent, down from about 85 per cent between July and early last month. “Every year around this time, we do about 30 per cent to 25 per cent. The decision to aid regeneration of grass is good for us,” he adds.

By mid-October, Koileken says, most hotels send their staff on unpaid leave because of low business volumes. But this year, the gnus are in the park for longer.

David Soit, tour guide for Sarova Mara says continued presence of wildebeests has made game viewing easy because tourists no longer travel long distances off park roads to watch the big cats. “Our clients are still watching lions, leopards, cheetahs and other carnivorous as they hunt not far from their resident hotels,” he says.

Masai Mara Park Senior Warden James Kuyion says controlled burning of grass is a widely accepted method to help new grass grow and to control ticks and diseases such Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF), a viral disease that kills buffaloes, antelopes and cattle.

Animals contract the killer disease after grazing where wildebeests have calved. “We are not burning to keep these animals in the park longer; we want to ensure all herbivorous graze on new and disease free grass,” he says.

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