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Wildebeest party as Narok government keeps cattle off Mara Reserve

Narok county government decision to stop cattle grazing inside the Masai Mara National Reserve, has helped delay wildebeests final departure to Serengeti by almost two months.

Availability of grass has confined the gnus to the park where they often cross to and from Serengeti, keeping the migration alive. Their presence has continued to attract visitors, with most hotels inside the park now recording between 30 per cent and 50 per cent bed occupancies — during a traditional October-November low season.

Previously, many lodges would only be 15 to 20 per cent occupied, with some closed down until Christmas and New Year holidays.

In the past, cattle used to compete for grass with the gnus, depleting foliage before October, the end of the peak season. “The county government’s decision to rein in on grazing inside the park has seen them stay longer than in the previous migrations. It is a boon to our business,” says Kevin Mwendwa, general manager Mara Intrepids and Mara Explorer Camps.

The county has also been burning grass to aid regeneration and control ticks. Lions and other carnivorous animals stalking the prey have also been confined to the park, making game viewing for tourists easier.

Wildebeests presence and crossings to and from Serengeti, other hoteliers say, will attract more US tourists to the Mara, now that daily Kenya Airways flights have commenced between Nairobi and New York. “We could be in business until the end of winter break in February.

Most of our clients will be Americans,” says Lily Wadington of the exclusive Osero Camp in Siana Conservancy.

She adds that most hotels revised their charges downwards from early September to attract guests. Tourists from Asia, she says, currently outnumber those from other parts of the world, with US taking the second position.

“We were forced to revise charges to attract all segments of visitors. Unlike in the previous seasons, few hotels have sent their workers on leave due to low business volumes,” says Wadington.

Tour agents from US, Wadington tells TravelWise, are keen on Mara, adding that major hotels will be packed with Americans from early December to early March 2019.

“KQ flights from JKIA to JFK International Airport has forced US travel companies to renew their interests in Kenya, especially in the safari expedition. That Mara will be the biggest beneficiary is not in doubt,” she says.

Moses Kuyioni, the Masai Mara Senior Warden, says the onset of rains, which according to weather experts could go on until early January in South Rift and Lake Victoria regions, will keep wildebeests longer than expected. “They might finally leave for Serengeti in March.

We have realised that competition for grass with cattle was responsible for their early departure and decided to keep herders off the park,” he says.

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