Wildebeest migration watched by only a handful of tourists

Simon Calder
·3-min read
Wild world: Wildebeest and giraffes crossing the Mara river in Africa (Paul Goldstein)
Wild world: Wildebeest and giraffes crossing the Mara river in Africa (Paul Goldstein)

The migration of wildebeest, giraffes and gazelles in East Africa is one of the most extraordinary wildlife spectacles in the world.

But the 500-mile journey from the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya has, for the first time in decades, gone almost unwatched by tourists.

International travel restrictions, including the UK Foreign Office blanket warning against visiting anywhere in Africa, have reduced the number of tourists to a handful.

In addition Kenya requires visitors to take a test for coronavirus shortly before departure, and to produce a certificate showing a negative result.

But a small group of British travellers have paid £3,500 for the privilege of seeing thousands of animals making the precarious crossing of the Mara river in Kenya.

Besides needing special insurance because of going against FCDO advice, they will also need to spend 14 days in self-isolation when they return to the UK.

The wildebeest, interspersed with giraffes, thunder down the steep bank into the fast-flowing river, where crocodiles often lie in wait. They battle across to the opposite shore to continue their search for the best grazing.

Dan Heap from Lancashire described seeing the phenomenon as “the best morning of my life”.

Another visitor, Anna Anthony from Bedfordshire, said: “Wildlife needs the policing eyes of tourists and their hard currency. I am so pleased for those who believed and came having the fabled plains almost to themselves, but we need more of them.

“Olare Conservancy, adjacent to the Masai Mara is my favourite place on earth, which is why I am supporting it. I work from home now so the idiocy of quarantine will not affect me, but I am utterly bewildered why tourists to African countries are being so persecuted.”

The group was led by the outspoken veteran guide and wildlife photographer, Paul Goldstein. He told The Independent: “The crossing of the Mara river is only a small part of the annual migration but certainly the most dramatic.

“This was a spectacular show to witness, one of the best I have seen, as it went on for over an hour. The snorting was deafening.

“I have only seen this A-list return back into the Masai Mara this late once before. It was almost as if they were missing their usual audience, an audience denied them by dubious quarantine and Foreign Office decisions.”

Earlier this month the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, who was born in South Africa, said: “With low Covid infections, it seems discriminatory to not have any corridors to Africa from the UK.”

The quarantine rules are decided by the Department for Transport (DfT) in consultation with the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The DfT says prevalence of coronavirus is only one aspect of its decisions on quarantine exemptions. It also considers the numbers of new cases, the destination's testing capacity and regime, the proportion of tests that are positive, the potential trajectory of the disease.

Kenya has just past 50,000 recorded cases of coronavirus, with more than 900 deaths. The figures for the UK are almost 900,000 cases and nearly 50,000 deaths.

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