The Masai Mara is undoubtedly one of the greatest wildlife destinations on the globe and the spectacle of the Wildebeest crossing the Mara River is truly magnificent.
Wild Eye has been running hugely successful safaris here since 2011 and have throughout this time set ourselves the goal of being respected as the best photographic travel company that operates in the area.
It is not only our clients that think this, as can be seen from the feedback we recently received from Sally and Susan.
We have also been applauded by the officials that govern the Mara Triangle in the manner we conduct ourselves, particularly in our conservation ethics and how we do not affect the natural behaviour of the animals we view and photograph.
Here is a short mail we received from one of the section rangers of the Mara Triangle.
In any professional guiding textbook, it will instruct any aspiring guide that one of the fundamental aspects of responsible guiding is that you should NEVER EVER affect the natural behaviour of an animal.
These rules do not apply to everyone that operates in the region, as there are many unscrupulous safari outfits that have a blatant disregard for the environment and the animals. It appears that all they are interested in is ensuring they get as close as possible to the crossings or predator sightings so they can maximise their gratuity at the end of the safari.
Their loutish behaviour stresses the animals to no end.
The biggest cause for concern is with the Wildebeest. The stress created by the vehicles and people is causing them to use crossing points that they would not ordinarily use as they are dangerous.
This is not due to there being more crocodiles on that particular stretch of the river, but because the entry and exit points are difficult which causes the animals to drown. In their hundreds and on rare occasions, in the their thousands. The Chief Warden of the Mara Triangle related an experience where approximately 9000 animals had perished due to them using an unsuitable crossing point in high river conditions.
Below is an extract from his official November 2012 report:
“The wildebeest persist in crossing in the most unsuitable places and about 2,980 died in one crossing. We know of at least 9,000 animals dying whilst crossing the river this year, nearly all of them in two unsuitable crossing points near Purungat. The rangers tried very hard to stop animals from crossing at these points and managed on most occasions – the death toll would undoubtedly have been much higher if they had not done so. Both sites are in croton woodland along the river and not easily accessible to vehicles. Are the wildebeest avoiding the more traditional crossing points in order to get away from vehicle pressure?”
During our recent Great Migration safaris, many crossings were disrupted by the unscrupulous conduct of irresponsible operators.
On this occasion we saw several thousand wildebeest approaching a particular crossing at pace. We approached the crossing point, and parked our vehicle well away from their exit point – as should be done and is enforced by the rangers in the Mara Triangle. The animals suddenly stopped which was quite unusual. We immediately presumed that there may be a predator lurking in the bushes, something we have witnessed in the past
It was not a predator.
It was an operator that had decided that the entry to the crossing point was a great place to have lunch. WTF??
The Masai Mara is hundreds of thousands of hectares – why on earth would you choose to have your lunch there knowing that it is a regularly used crossing point with herds of Wildebeest building just behind them up the hill?
We have even witnessed crossings where people are out of their vehicles with Wildebeest running around them to get to the river.
This year one of our guests captured images of guests from a nearby lodge, standing on the edge of the river with a lioness in a bush not 10 meters away from them. Not only dangerous, but also disrespectful to the other visitors to the Mara as well as the wildlife we are all there to view.
Here is a small “selection“ of other images captured by the team.
It is not only the Wildebeest that are stressed out by human behaviour. The predators also are subjected to this idiotic behaviour.
I have personally witnessed a mini van driving off road and ramming into a bush as there was a leopard inside the bush. This all because the driver wanted his guests to see the animal. The leopard, obviously scared witless, charged the vehicle. Absolutely pathetic behaviour.
Now you are probably wondering where the authorities are to prevent this boorish behaviour.
Allow me to explain.
The Masai Mara is split into 2 regions. The Western side of the river is known as the Mara Triangle, which is controlled by the Mara Conservancy. Their rangers are all extremely visual and extremely committed to the effective conservation of their area. They do not hesitate to issue significant fines to people that break the park rules. At all the crossings that I have been fortunate to witness, there has always been a ranger present. They ensure that no vehicles block the exit / entry points – you have to park your vehicles well away from them, no one is allowed out of your vehicles or even to sit on the roof, and you are not allowed to go off road. They also only allow 5 vehicles at a time at any predator sighting and in some areas you are not permitted to follow the animal off road. All of this is done to protect the environment, minimise stress on the animals and create an all-round pleasant wildlife experience for guests.
The other side of the river, the Masai Mara, is controlled by the Narok County Council. The same rules do not apply. I have rarely seen a ranger vehicle at a crossing point, hence the unruly behavior of operators. There are also no limits in regards to vehicles at a predator sighting.
A few weeks back, Gerry and his guests were at a cheetah sighting; a female with 5 cubs. The sighting was quite a way off road, so our guides stood by on the road waiting to see if she would move her cubs closer to the road. In this instance there was a ranger present and was allowing the opportunity to get closer.
For a 3000 KES fee! Per vehicle!!
No receipt, nothing. Flat out bribe!
We obviously declined their “offer”!
I could go on and on…
Will this post change things?
Well then, what are my intentions?
Primarily to educate people. There are many people that read this post that may visit the Mara in the future and I have no doubt that it is as much the responsibility of the guests to ensure that rules are obeyed, as the operator themselves.
There are also several photographic outfitters from around the world that offer safaris to the Mara so I feel that it is important that we somehow connect, unite and assist in eradicating this utterly irresponsible behaviour.
We have a responsibility in Conserving the Mara – a combined voice will always be more effective than a single one.
Wild Eye’s standpoint on this is very clear.
We will not tolerate our guides breaking the rules, and we insist on them portraying a responsible conservation ethic.
Should this not be the case, and if proven, we will not hesitate to take immediate action against them.
After reading this you maybe asking yourself – do I really want to visit the Mara?
But do it with a responsible operator with a proven track record.
The experience will most definitely be worth it!
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