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Video of wildebeests blocked by Kenyan tourist camp sparks national outrage

A video of guards chasing away wildebeests at a tourist camp in Kenya on September 8 went viral on social media. The video led to an outcry from national government officials and a call to disband the camp. But local actors on the ground told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the event was a one-off, and was quickly politicised.

The footage shows the Mara Ngenche safari camp, located in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwest Kenya. The camp is located along the annual migration route for wildebeests. On the day the video was filmed, a herd of thousands of wildebeests tried to cross the river into the camp premises. Guards responded by forcing the herd away.

The video shows the wildebeests being chased back towards the raging river. The filmer zooms, panning to show several human figures forcing the moving mass of wildebeests through the trees and towards the water. “This is horrible,” a woman can be heard saying in the background. 

This video, taken by a tourist in mid-August, of wildebeests being turned back by guards at a safari camp recently attracted national attention in Kenya.

Although the video of the wildebeest crossing dates back more than a month, it only drew national attention recently. On September 8, Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife, took to Twitter to condemn the guards’ actions. He declared that the camp should be shut down and proposed establishing a plan to protect wildlife migratory corridors.

Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife in Kenya shared the video of the migration, calling for the camp to be removed. Balala said he was working with Narok County Governor Samuel Tunai.

Maasai Mara, situated on the border with Tanzania, contains about 1,500 square kilometres of savannah plains. The wildlife reserve is a conservation zone and a popular safari destination for international tourists. It is famous for the “Great Migration,” an annual phenomenon where over two million wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, and other animals migrate north into the Mara from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The migration depends on rainfall patterns, but usually lasts from July to September. Animals must traverse the Mara River, which divides the two sides of the Maasai Mara Reserve.

 “The camp was occupied by guests including families with children.”

Jane Wanjiru is a coordinator for Maasai Mara Travel, a tour group that operates in the wilderness reserve.  

This migration takes place once every year, with the animals relying on their primal gut instincts, following the changing rainfall patterns across the vast Serengeti-Maasai Mara ecosystem in search of fresh green pasture.

The points at which the wildebeest may decide to cross the river vary every year, and there are multiple river crossings taking place in the Maasai Mara at any given moment during the migration season. It just so happens that some wildebeest herds attempted to cross close to the camp. This camp  [Mara Ngenche ] has actually been at the present site for over 10 years and there does not appear to have been a major previous incident with wildebeest crossing at this point.   

After the national outrage, Mara Ngenche camp received a phone call from the cabinet secretary’s office ordering them to disband the camp, according to Nagib Popat, Executive Director of Atua Enkop Africa, which operates the camp. Popat released a statement following the social media backlash.

“Mara Ngenche’s location is not a traditional crossing point, and in the past decade, we have never witnessed an instance like this. On the day of the video, our camp was full of guests, including young children. Our staff reacted to the situation to save human lives while protecting animal lives….We have been, and continue to be, fully supportive of and cooperative with any investigation.”