Tourists behaving badly: Visitors risking their lives at Maasai Mara

Tourists maneuver through tall red oat grass at the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve to have a view of a cheetah. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

Some tourists visiting the Maasai Mara Game Reserve flout laws on how one should behave in the protected zone.

The latest incident where a tour operator allowed a tourist to ‘play’ with a leopard cub endangering his life and those of other tourists caused an uproar leading to the ban of Oltepesi Mara Camp.

In the video clip that went viral, a leopard cub can be seen playing with a tourist’s leg sticking out of the vehicle while other tourists film.

In the letter dated July 31, the Masai Mara Chief Park Administrator Christine Koshal suspended the camp behind the incident and directed the revenue-collecting company KAPS not to transact any business with the camp.

“On July 30, in the afternoon, one of your clients was caught on camera with a leopard cub in the proximity of the mother.

“This was purely putting the life of the tourist at risk, as well as your life as a guide,” read the letter.

She said the incident was against the park’s rules as well as wildlife conservation ethics.

But it is not the first time the park’s management has banned tour companies for allowing their clients to breach the rules.

Last year, three tour companies were banned from the game reserve for flouting park rules by allowing their clients to alight from their tour vans and film the wildebeest migration.

The three tour companies Sunworld Safaris, Mario Tours and Twiga Tours, were said to exhibited unacceptable behaviour and code of conduct .

“On August 8 and 9,2020, at wildebeests migration lookout point you (tour companies) deliberately allowed your quests to light contrary to park rules and regulations.

“You obstructed the migration and also put the lives of the visitors at risk,” read the letter.

It is peak season in the Mara with the wildebeests’ migration about to start.

Last year also, a tourist camp located along the Mara River faced punishment after its workers were captured in a video chasing wildebeests.

The video showed thousands of wildebeests who were trooping to the  Mara River from Tanzania’s Serengeti heading back in fright and colliding with an oncoming herd leading to a stampede.

In the video, the camp workers were captured chasing wildebeests back into the river where the number wildebeests crossing was quite high.

The video was shot by Tourist Anne Taylor and it caught the attention of Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala who directed the area County Government to remove the camp for the gross violation of park rules.

In the latest incident, Governor Samuel Tunai warned those flouting the rules, especially during this wildebeest migration season.

“Generally our tourists have been observing park rules save for a few.

“All tourists in Masai Mara Game reserve must observe the laws to avoid clashing with our rangers,” Governor Tunai said.

Park rules discourage off-road game drives done by some tourists so they can see at close range predators feasting on their prey in their natural habitat.

“No more off-road driving and we are strict on this. All tourists who are on a game drive should stick to the roads.

“We do not want disturbance of wildlife on their natural abode,” said the governor.

He has also directed that all the shortcut routes to the park be closed, saying the park should only be accessed through Sekenani, Ololaimutia, Musiara and Talek gates.

Masai Mara Game Reserve’s Chief Park Warden James Sindiyo said several tour companies have been fined for flouting the park rules.

“For those engaging in extreme off road game drives, we slap them with Sh20,000 instant fines.

“Those who commit bigger offenses are suspended for some period or banned forever,” Sindiyo said.

He, however, said that the park’s rangers have sophisticated communication equipment in their patrol vehicles and they can easily spot those flouting the park rules.

Some tour guides said that they are forced to drive off-road to satisfy their clients who get disappointed if they fail to spot their favourite game.