Kenya: As wildebeest migrate, COVID-19 keeps tourists at bay

You have to wake up at dawn to catch the sun rising while having breakfast in the wild at the Maasai Mara game reserve in southwest Kenya.

If you are lucky, you will see lions on the hunt, prowling through the grassland of the savanna, hunting for wildebeest.

If you are very lucky, you will get to witness thousands upon thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara or Sandy Rivers from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania into the Maasai Mara where they come for pasture and to mate every year.

The river crossings are spectacular.

The herbivores have to avoid crocodiles as well as other predators like large cats and hyenas – among the many perils wildebeest face during their annual 800-kilometre (nearly 500 miles) journey.

By October, nearly one million wildebeest will be in Kenya, accompanied by other migratory animals including gazelles and zebras.

The wildebeest migration – one of UNESCO’s Wonders of the World – attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists in a typical year.

But this year is anything but typical.

The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the global tourist economy, and Kenya is caught up in that carnage.

The country reported its first case of COVID-19 in March and almost immediately put in place several health restrictions, including closing its airspace.

The government later stopped the movement of people in and out of the capital city Nairobi, the coastal town of Mombasa, and the northeastern town of Mandera where community infections were growing.

When the lockdown was lifted, tour company owner Milton Ole Siloma, who has made a living in the industry for three decades, accompanied me and my crew to the Maasai Mara.

We were his first clients in four months.

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