Reports suggesting that Tanzanians set off a fire to forestall the wildebeests’ migration, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, from crossing into Masai Mara, are abound. But as ALLAN OLINGO found out, the fires are not just on the Serengeti side but also in the Mara ecosystem
Picture yourself seated in a Land Rover from 8.00am then four hours later, at midday, the magical wonder starts happening. The wildebeests converge near the Mara River banks ready to cross to the Mara Triangle. Suddenly, some fellows on a tractor start setting grass on fire on the Mara Triangle side. On sensing the danger of the fire the wildebeests head to the east of Mara. The poor lions run for safety at the banks of Mara River.
That is how Onesmus Ole Irungu, described his disappointment on social media, over the fires that have deterred the wildebeest crossing.
The sky is filled with white smoke, which stretches tens of kilometres away. On the Mara River, the wildebeests are waiting though some have started crossing.
Looking through the Ololoo escarpment, I could see the raging fires spreading fast through the plains all through to Serengeti.
It is an open secret that Kenya and Tanzania continue to instigate well-calculated moves aimed at locking each other out of lucrative economic resources, especially in the tourism sector. The two neighbours have been engaging in fierce behind-the-scenes, cross-border hostility that mainly revolves around economic exploits in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.
A fortnight ago, it was reported that farmers and rangers in Serengeti, on the Tanzanian side, were burning the grass. It was alleged that they were doing so, so that they could deter the wildebeests from crossing over to the Mara ecosystem.
The claim has been that the wildebeest migration, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, benefits Kenya more than its southern neighbour. This was viewed, by Kenya as an act of sabotage, a claim that Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) denies.
Tanzania National Parks’ public relations manager Paschal Shelutete was quoted in Tanzanian media as saying that it is important for the herbivores to migrate from one point to another in order to avoid cases of inbreeding adding that the wildebeests spend only two months in Kenya with the rest of (ten months) in Tanzania.
“The fires that Kenya claimed were being lit to scare the animals from crossing into Masai-Mara are scientifically known as ‘Early Burning’, executed under the General Management Plan of Serengeti National Park,” said Shelutete.