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Early wildebeest migration leaves Maasai Mara hotels with empty beds

The early migration started last Friday from
The early migration started last Friday from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Hotels in Maasai Mara have been left with empty beds after the annual wildebeest migration that drives tourists in droves to the national game reserve started a month earlier.

The early migration started last Friday from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, catching the hoteliers on the wrong foot.

A majority of the hotels and tented camps at the Mara have been experiencing a low-season for the past four months, with the earliest bookings scheduled for July and August — a period when the migration traditionally happens.

Tour operators and hoteliers normally report near full capacity, in large part because of safari-lovers going to watch the spectacular scenes of the hundreds of thousands of wildebeests crossing the Mara River in search of greener pastures, and running into hungry crocodiles along the way.

Presently, hotels and tented camps in the Mara have an occupancy of between 30 per cent and 50 per cent compared to rates of between 90 per cent and 100 per cent during the normal wildebeest migration seasons, said the game reserve's chief warden, Moses Kuyiona.

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"The bookings are still at the lower side, with most clients booked not because of the migration, just normal visitors on safari,” Mr Kuyiona said in a phone interview yesterday.

The early start of the wildebeest migration is linked to prolonged dry weather that has reduced pastures in Tanzania's northern Serengeti, prompting the aminals to cross to Kenya where the delayed rains started last month.

The spectacle, ranked as one of the new ‘Seventh Wonders of the World’, normally starts in mid-June to October.

Ecologists argue that in light of climate change, weather patterns have become unpredictable and do not follow a specific timeline as it used to be a few decades ago.

Hoteliers who hoped for greater sales during the migration period are concerned about the impact of the early migration on businesss.

Antony Ole Tira, the proprietor of Matira bush camp said they were operating at between 10 and 20 per cent. Mr Tira said they were readying themselves for the peak season starting towards the end of June.

Kenya’s earnings from tourism jumped by almost a third in 2018 from the previous year to Sh157.4 billion, after the number of visitors rose by 37 per cent.

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