Over 300 wildebeests drowned after a suspected stampede on Sunday afternoon as they crossed the Mara River in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
Their bloated, rotting carcasses now litter the river, filling the air of Kenya’s most famous game park with the sickly stench of death.
Conservationists in the reserve described the deaths near the Lookout area as tragic, saying they believe the animals simply picked the wrong point to cross the river that is now swollen with water.
Maasai Mara Deputy Chief game warden Eddy Nkoitoi believes the stampede occurred because the number of wildebeest was quite high, and the pressure was strong from the back while those in front kept dropping down blocking the way.
“So all the wildebeests that came from the back stepped on the first ones down and so on, hundreds died, giving hundreds of crocodiles and vultures more than they can chew,” said Mr Nkoitoi.
The Nation found Mr Nkoitoi leading a team of game rangers to rescue some of the wildebeests that later attempted to cross but got stuck in trenches.
Did not stand a chance
Some of the animals on the upper level were still alive and tried to get out, fighting for their lives, but in the end none of them stood a chance.
Mr Nkoitoi said that so far, more than 10,000 are estimated to have died since the beginning of the migration in May from different causes including predators, natural reasons, accidents and stampedes.
“I have lived in the Mara for the past ten years and this is by far the worst I have ever seen. It is very distressing for people who have been working to prevent poaching to see such large numbers of animals wiped out in a matter of days,” he added.
Cyrus Thiongo, a local tourist from Nairobi who witnessed the tragic incident, also confirms that the animals chose a bad point of crossing.
The wildebeest migration was named among the seven natural wonders of the world. It happens every year as several animals gather at the river’s banks before plunging into the water to cross over in search of pasture.
Each year hundreds die in the stampede. Some simply drown in the swirling waters while others are snatched by crocodiles; but it is rare for such a big number to die in a single day.
An award-winning photographer, Antony Ole Tira, said hundreds of tourists atop open roofed offroad vehicles could only stand by and watch the events unfold.
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He noted that at one point the game wardens considered blocking the lethal crossing point, but later realised that they could not interfere.
Currently, migratng wildebeests are headed northwards towards River Talek where they graze and mate every year.
The yearly cycle begins in the south of Serengeti, where half a million calves are born between January and March. But when the rains end in May, the land dries fast and the grazers must move on, heading for their dry season refuge in the Mara.
The migration takes place across 150,000 square miles of woodland, hills and open plains that form the wilderness across the two reserves.
From July to October, the peak tourist season when visitors flock to the Mara to watch the dramatic crossings, the wildebeests meander between the western and eastern sides of the river, crossing it at different points almost daily.