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November 22, 2018

Roads to Musiara Swamp need a facelift

RARE SIGHT: Marsh lions at the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
RARE SIGHT: Marsh lions at the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

A few years ago, I used to watch wildlife documentaries filmed by the famous photographer and conservationist, Mr Jonathan Scott and his wife.

I was fascinated most by the story of the marsh lions. The documentary was filed at the Musiara Swamp in Maasai Mara. It's been years since I joined the tourism industry, and I have always found it difficult gravitating to areas where filming is done.

Indeed, all my colleagues whose main interest is bird watching, like I, rarely go to the marshy area, although it has birds of all species. Only four-by-four vans can maneuvre their way into the area. I have visited the swamp only once for some assignment, and I drove in a Land Cruiser.

This week, I was lucky to visit Musiara for the second time. I had clients – nature photographers of repute – and they had heard about the Musiara lions from the national geographic. They wanted to see the marsh lions. My first challenge was finding a vehicle to get me to the swamp.

I was driving a four-wheel-drive van, but its ground clearance was not as high as the Land Cruiser's. There is no clear path leading to Musiara and the routes available have potholes all through, and many are the times we came out to give our vehicle a push after it got stuck in muddy patches leading to the swampy area. I was perturbed as virtually all the roads to Mara have been recarpeted, and even a small car can get to the park.

 There is a small river that borders the park and the northern conservancy area, and flows very close to Masai Mara's gate. I noted all entrances have rivers, which serve as boundaries.

There is one at Oloololo, complete with a bridge and another river at Oloolaimutia with a bridge as well. The river at Sekenani – the main gate – has a bridge.

However, the river near Musiara gate does not have a bridge and one has to wade through the rocky bottom of the river. Getting stuck only 20m from the gate is such a shame. I hope the government will build a bridge now that it is working to improve the ecosystem of the larger Mara.

 To add insult to an injury, the bushes have been cleared to put up safari lodges. The area used to be and is still the best for game drive in the northern part of the park. Initially, there was only one lodge in the northern part – the Governor’s camp and another tented camp, the Little Governor.

Tourists in the Little Governor's lodge went for game drive in the Mara triangle area, opposite the river flowing near the Governor's camp.

Those in the main Governor’s Camp used the Musiara swamp as their main gaming area. Tourists in other lodges in the northern conservancy area came from Mara Safari Club, the Mara River Camp, Livingstone and Kicheche. The swampy area is, therefore, pristine and almost virgin bush land. There was a kilometre or more of completely dense forest from the marshy area to the Governor’s Camp. It was very easy to get lost if you did not know the entrance to the Governor's Camp,

 That is all in the past now. Along the riverine forest, pricey camps have been put up on the banks of Mara River, stretching all the way to Serena.

With many acres of forest cleared to build the lodges, the forest is as good as gone. I could see the Mara River while on game drive, which was not possible 10 years ago!

Now that the new camps have the state-of-the-art Land Cruisers for game drive, and drivers can drive through the unrestricted off-road, the marshy area now looks like a cobweb of tracks crisscrossing everywhere. Whoever predicted the death of Mara within the next 10 years was very right, unless some drastic measures are taken very soon.

Good news though, marsh lions still exists, and I have evidence of the same. But for how long?

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