The Tanzania Times
Eastern Africa News Network

River Mara: When Mystery lurks under Murky water Surface

“Crocodiles can fly!”

One has to watch giant reptiles shooting onto the sky from the depths of Mara River, to capture high jumping Zebras and Gnus splashing into the muddy river in their quest to cross onto the other side.

Everybody enjoys viewing the Great Serengeti Migration, whether seeing it live on site or watching the experience through other mediums in the comfort of their homes.

And as everyone knows, in order to really feel the excitement of the Wildebeests migration, the best place to be is on the banks of River Mara, where one gets to witness the nearly 2 million ungulates cross the giant River Mara en-masse.

Mara-River crossing of the Gnus is probably the most exhilarating experience in the wild, regardless of how many times this gets replayed on loop. Wildebeests crossing the Mara is the highlight of Serengeti Migration, yet the water body which makes this possible remains elusive.

Stretching some 395 kilometers from its source at Mau Forest escarpments in Kenya, then flowing south all the way to the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, River Mara cuts across Maasai-Mara Game Reserve of Kenya and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

At least 57 kilometers of the River flows through Serengeti. On the other hand, at least 35 percent of the Mara River basin is mapped within Tanzania, leaving the lion share in Kenya.

Covering a total of 13,504 square kilometers, the Mara river basin extends from the lush Mau forests in Kenya where the largest 65 percent lay, down across northern Tanzania, via Serengeti, all the way to the mouth of the river at Lake Victoria.

The Mau-Mara-Serengeti basin is one of the oldest, most complex and least disturbed natural environments on Earth which hasn’t been tampered with for over a million years, though this is slowly but surely changing now.

This amazing and huge place includes Kenya’s Mau forest, once described to be the remaining biggest natural mountain forest in east Africa; the River Mara basin, said to be the lifeblood of the region and the vast Serengeti plains.

Mara River is the climax venue for the world’s most spectacular wildlife migrations. Each year 1.5 million wildebeests, 300,000 zebras and 200,000 gazelles traverse between the Serengeti up to Kenya’s Maasai Mara on annual return trips covering 1600 kilometers per cycle.

It is an annual lifecycle of calving, nurturing, mating, feeding, watering and cheating deaths from marauding land predators, (cheetahs, leopards, lions, and hyenas) as well as the strong surging currents of the River Mara, whose depths happen to be homes of yet other ferocious killers, the crocodiles.

Waters of Mara always seem to be murky, not bad for the resident crocodile who prefer the brownish liquid as vital camouflage while hunting the unsuspecting animals either hovering on the banks or attempting to cross the river.

Mara contains some of the largest crocodiles in the region, but no census has been conducted yet to determine the reptiles’ number in the watery eco-system also shared by innumerable hippos.

The large river is also home to several species of aquatic birds and variety of fishes. Its depth and width vary from place to place and siltation from human activities in some areas may be reducing its depth.

Apparently flowing through human settlements where activities such as faming and grazing are common, there is no chance for the flow to get clear.

Still, the waters of River Mara remain far from being badly polluted.

Water quality and quantity monitoring is conducted on Mara every month. It may look muddy but otherwise everything is well and clean as far as the river flow is concerned.

Except for the bank erosions, especially during prolonged rains spells. The soggy river banks walls crumbled into the water due to heavy downpour.

But again, when herds of wildebeests cross the river from single spot, chances are the ungulates will break the banks in the ensuing stampede.

Threats to the Great Mara increase as the river flows out of the conserved areas into human precincts where people can seriously do more damage than the millions of wildebeests in the park.

Add that to effects of global warming and climate change, suddenly Mara River basin future becomes bleak.

Kenya and Tanzania have jointly hatched efforts to save River Mara, having launched the initiative to protect the Mara-Serengeti water basin and already there is the annual ‘Mara Day’ held on rotational basis between Kenya and Tanzania and observed every second week of September.

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