By Cheruto Valentine

The Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem, which is home to the eighth wonder of the world, is on the verge of sinking from its own success.

Every year, over 200, 000 tourists visit the area at both the Kenyan and Tanzanian sides. However, the number of visitors Kenya’s Maasai Mara receives is 17 times higher than Tanzania’s Serengeti despite the fact that it accounts for only a quarter of the total ecosystem area. Inasmuch as the tourists bring in a lot of money for the country, their presence at the reserve in large numbers is overwhelming to the ecosystem environment.

According to a report written by the Mara Conservancy, which manages a segment of the reserve on behalf of Narok County, the unregulated traffic present at key crossing points is detrimental to the wildebeest migration. The congestion caused by vehicles and spectators is driving the animals to attempt crossing at much quieter spots. Recent attempts to control traffic at the crossing areas have proven unsuccessful.

In addition to congestion, the large number of vehicles have increased soil erosion in the area as well as air and noise pollution. Areas in the reserve where off-road driving is permitted have suffered the most.

Erosion in the area reduces the grassland coverage which is used either by prey as food or by predators to camouflage when hunting. The noise and air pollution causes a change in animal behavioral patterns due to disruption of their environment. They are then forced to move in order to combat the environmental changes.

Human encroachment into the reserve has impacted the wildlife population. A recent study by the University of Groningen with collaborators from 12 institutions around the world under the AfricanBioServices consortium revealed that some boundary areas have seen a 400 per cent increase in human population over the past decade while larger wildlife species populations in key areas (the Kenyan side) were reduced by more than 75 per cent. An increase in human activities has resulted in a significant increase of the human-wildlife conflict in the area as well as the deterioration of plant and animal life.

Other than crowding, a change in weather patterns has impacted the crossing as well.

The conservancy reported that last year’s migration was one of the worst it had experienced in recent years. The abundant rains in the Serengeti did not force the animals to move to Kenya to as the norm. Their move to Kenya is attributed to exhaustion of pasture and water on the Tanzania side.

While rainfall in the Serengeti was adequate, water on the Kenyan side was scarce. The Mara River, which lies along the migration path, is one of the main sources of water for animals in the reserve. The reduction in water quantity along the river is mainly attributed to destruction of the 400,000-acre Mau Forest Complex.

The decrease in volumes is also attributed to over-concentration of tourist facilities in the ecosystem. The tributaries that drain into Mara River, which provide water to these facilities, are drying up due to the high consumption of water by tourists putting up in the area.

The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the largest and most protected ecosystems in the world, spanning about 40,000 square kilometers. The Mara being the source of forage for wildlife during the dry season, is pivotal to the survival of the entire ecosystem.