Mara River Basin Expedition – Mara Conservancy

Welcome to #11 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

grazing impalas

Recurring afternoon thunderstorms keep the grasses green for many species of grazers in the Mara Conservancy

Date: Wed–Mon, 14–19 April 2010 /Entry 11
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Mara Conservancy, Mara River Basin

Having just finished a 2-1/2 week expedition in Uganda’s White Nile River Basin, NWNL is now returning to the Mara River Basin for a follow-up to its Mara expedition in September–October 2009. That last expedition was at the end of a three-year drought that had severely reduced water flow levels, devastated wildlife and herds of Maasai cattle, and ruined both commercial and small-stakeholders’ crops. Now the Mara is experiencing its long rainy season with unusually heavy El Niño rains. The comparison between drought and flood conditions in this river basin will be valuable documentation for No Water No Life.

Note: Previous post is from the White Nile River Basin.

From the field: What a contrast to be in the Mara Triangle, the western third of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, in the rainy season after being here 6 months ago during the worst, final days of a 3-year drought. The results of that drought – and floods of the ensuing El Niño rainy season – have devastated parts of Kenya.

To the east of the Mara Triangle, Amboseli National Park lost 90% of its wildebeest, 80% of its zebra, a large percentage of Cape buffalo and 90% of local Maasai cattle. According to Harvey Croze, an elephant researcher in Amboseli, 20 elephant matriarchs died as did every elephant calf under the age of two. A compounding effect of the loss of so many antelope is that predators, such as the lions of Amboseli, have lost their food source.

To the northeast of the Mara Triangle, the Ewaso Nyiro River jumped its banks two months ago after heavy rains, sweeping away lodges and research camps in Samburu National Park. This devastation has been a blow to both tourism and elephant research. Expectations are that such extreme weather events – caused by rain or lack thereof – that dramatically affect river flows, will continue to be severe throughout Africa.

Fortunately, all wildlife in the Mara Triangle, including the world-renowned wildebeest-zebra migration, survived this past drought thanks to a perennially-flowing Mara River. The waters of the Mara River, albeit often flowing at very low levels, were always available in the Mara Triangle. As well, this southwestern corner of Kenya was the least impacted by the country’s lack of rains.

However, stakeholders and scientists realize they must work together to maintain sufficient reserves of water for the growing number of users of the Mara River – upstream in Kenya and downstream in Tanzania where it empties into Lake Victoria. This week NWNL met again with GLOWS scientists Amanda Subalusky and Chris Dutton. They have monitored flows of the Mara River for two years to establish the critical point when extraction by Mara River’s water users must be limited. As well, NWNL also met a half dozen PhD students here this week who will be working in the Mara River Basin on related hydrology issues under a program called Mara Flows. This continued scientific monitor of water needs and usage is essential to establishing guaranteed water availability in the future for all species – human and wildlife!

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