Forget wild beast migration- Mara river to dry in three years

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The world-famous park and Kenya’s heart of tourism which is served by the Mara River is on the verge of drying up.

According to Narok County Commissioner,“The Mara River will be dead in three years.”

There is over-concentration of tourist facilities in the Mara Eco system ecosystem and drying tributaries which spell doom to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

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The destruction of the Mau Forest complex, the source of the river, has been blamed for the current situation.

A spot check of the river reveals that crocodiles and hippos are dying as the Mara and its tributary, Talek River, are drying up.

In some parts of the river is now just a small channel.

Crocodiles and hippos are competing for pools of water that remain along the almost drying river.

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Conservationists also argue that the Mara ecosystem is now more polluted than ever before and is still under enormous threats arising from human activities.

The Mara is a trans-boundary resource shared by Kenya and Tanzania and it covers an area of 13,500 square kilometres with 65 percent of it being in Kenya.

The once mighty river, known worldwide as the haven of ferocious crocodiles that timed and drowned wildebeest as they crossed, is now a shadow of its former glory.

At some spots, the dry river bed is what remains as evidence of human damage to the Mara ecosystem. The worst, we were told, is yet to come.

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When the Nation toured the entire expanse of the Mara, new images and sights of wildebeest trotting along the dry river bed, where their ancestors had previously been mauled by giant crocodiles, became the first signs that the spectacular scenes — vividly captured by National Geographic and other wildlife channels — of wildebeests jumping in to the deep swollen river were nothing but history.

From the extensive tour, interviews with many people and reference to documents, there are no doubts that sooner, rather than later, the chicken might finally come home to roost.

At the moment — the question is no longer whether — but how long that will take.

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Although some gave a window of between five and 10 years, everyone was clear that the Mara River is dying: the biggest blow to Kenya’s tourism sector and a doom to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

A tour to some of the tributaries that empty into the Mara River and saw the visible effects of over-concentration of tourist facilities in the ecosystem.

But we never anticipated what we saw at Kiptunga Swamp, which is the source of the Mara River.

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Joseph Kitkai, one of the herders we met there, informed us that some 20 years ago, anyone venturing into the swamp, animals included, “would be swallowed” into the ground.

“We lost 10 cows here,” he said indicating that the swamp had a sinkhole.

But this is no more; animals can now graze inside the swamp while a private company, Timsales Ltd, was licensed by the Kenya Forest Service to be planting and harvesting exotic, water-guzzling tree species close by.

Apparently, the upper zone of the Mara River has minimal water extraction activities but in the middle and lower zones, there is direct collection by households, urban centres and irrigation schemes.

Reports also show that the Nyangores River provides water to Tenwek hospital, Silibwet and Bomet Town.

Already, the loss of volumes along the river has affected the globally renown wildebeest migration which was declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2006.

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This is likely to severely cut the cumulated earnings at the Mara by the hotels which were estimated at Sh14.1 billion while gate collections stood at Sh867 million in 2011 — according to Lake Basin Commission.

And that is not all, the survival of hundreds of thousands of pastoralists, farmers and other people who rely on the river and its tributary will be jeopardised as the pressure for land and water sparks ethnic tensions.

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When we visited the Mara, members of the Maasai and Kalenjin communities had clashed over land — which means that the loss of Mara River is now a national security issue.

Most of our respondents attributed the loss of volumes to over-abstraction by a big number of users.

They pointed to the large-scale flower farming by companies such as Mara Peas as well as maize and sorghum farming by Shimo Ltd, which get water from Nyangores and Amala tributaries of the Mara.

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