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July 18th, 2008
10:30 AM ET

Kenya’s epic migration under threat

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All of those small dots represent Wildebeest. The annual Wildebeest migration is an event tourists flock to see... its also bringing out many more poachers. Watch our David McKenzie's report
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David McKenzie | BIO
CNN Correspondent

It’s one of the natural wonders of the world.

Over a million animals trek annually across the African plains. They cross national boundaries, forge rivers thick with crocodiles, and find the greener pastures of Kenya’s Masai Mara.

And it’s happening right now. Just imagine it for a second: herds thousands strong streaming through the golden grass of the savanna. There is always a single file of Wildebeest in the lead with a deluge following behind. Some of the herds are so massive that their front is in Kenya and their back in Tanzania.

This annual migration is now under threat by poachers.

And the Mara Triangle, on the border of Tanzania, is on the front lines. Around 40 rangers are responsible for patrolling the Mara Triangle-but their funding has all but dried up and they have cut back on vital patrols.

A portion of the entrance fees paid by tourists fund the anti-poaching patrols. The violence in Kenya earlier this year caused many people to cancel their trips. And though Kenya has been peaceful for months, occupancy rates in the Mara are less than 20 percent. The shortfall of tourists has hammered anti-poaching funding.

Joseph Kimunjino, one of the head rangers of the conservancy, has been involved in those efforts for over 20 years and he has never seen it this bad. I spoke to him in a plan surrounded by Wildebeest, Zebra and Topi Gazelles.

“If we can not run our operations as normal,” he told me, “then we fear that poachers may invade the park, kill the animals and then at the end of the day we do not have animals. They will eventually destroy the whole Mara.”

It sounds alarmist, but the facts back him up. Every herd requires a critical mass to survive and to move. Experts believe that between 40,000 to a 100,000 wildebeest are poached a year. If the poaching increases to a certain level, it could spell disaster.

“If the numbers of animals in the migration were to reduce below a certain number,” says Brian Heath, the CEO of the Mara Conservancy, “then that migration may not be sustained into Kenya. And that would have a huge and devastating effect on Kenya’s tourism.”

All is not lost though. Tourism could pick up and the shortfall could be met. But the Rangers aren’t waiting for that.

As is typical for ordinary Kenyans, they have tried to find a solution.

Joseph, after 20 years at the park, has started a blog to try and raise money for the anti-poaching efforts. They have managed to raise around 60,000 dollars. But seeing that they have a shortfall of almost 50,000 every month, they have a long way to go.

Without their efforts, the migration would certainly be under threat and one of the most breathtaking scenes of nature could disappear forever.

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Here are some snapshots from the Masai Mara Reserve:

(WARNING: Some images are graphic)

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Over a million wildebeest cross the East African savanna each year in search of pasture.

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Captured poachers display hippo meat. Poachers mostly come from Tanzania and kill animals for bushmeat that they sell back in their country.

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Poachers set steel snares amongst the thorn trees to capture wildebeest headed on the migration.

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A zebra felled by a poachers arrow in the Mara Triangle

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The snares are meant for wildebeest, but even the mighty elephant is caught.

Miraculously, this elephant survived the ordeal.

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Filed under: David McKenzie • Global 360° • Planet in Peril • TV
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Ilhana, Bosnia

    This is really one of the world wonders, and I really hope the poachers get their own medicine. The blog is amazing, they even have a way of sponsoring a ranger, that is trully something, and I hope many people will donate to this cause. Wonderful sites and pictures.. I can't help my heart tightening at the sight of those poor animals being killed...

    July 21, 2008 at 2:07 am |
  2. James - Brentwood, CA

    Frieda..your comments are niether relevant nor helpful..infact they are rather tasteless when you consider the severe problem of poaching and the economic strains that encourage the practice

    July 19, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  3. James - Brentwood, CA

    Africa has been my dream since I was 11 years old. My parents are offering to send me on a "EuroTrip" with my college brother but I would rather do an Africa Trip. Plane into Cairo, book a flight from Cape Town 2 months later...figure out the rest. I want to go to Kenya and Uganda really badly...I hope they let me go to Africa instead of Europe.

    July 19, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  4. winarni ,indonesia

    whatever it takes to survive ! it shows that human being can be the most dangerous creatures on earth

    July 19, 2008 at 9:06 am |
  5. Joy in NY

    Hey Reader, do your research before you embarass yourself on a very public blog. Its one word......... wildebeest, look it up

    July 19, 2008 at 12:12 am |
  6. Jo Anne Cummings

    I don't know how we will describe to future generations how magnificent these animals WERE......I hope this slaughter can be stopped befor it is too late..........

    July 18, 2008 at 10:09 pm |
  7. Lerod

    @Reader your attempt at being a smarty pants failed. Good going Larry!

    July 18, 2008 at 10:09 pm |
  8. Don, WA

    I've always wanted to see Africa. It must be beautiful and thunderous in the pastures of Wildebeest – I hope it never becomes an echo.

    July 18, 2008 at 7:34 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    So many species in a lot of places are severely threatened by poachers; we may lose whole species if we cannot stem the numbers of animals killed by poachers and that would be a shame for us and our children as well as our planet. We have the means to put the poachers out of business – by not buying the end products they supply. It like everything else is a demand driven market.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Ratna, New York, NY

    heartbreaking!

    July 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  11. Larry

    @rReader type wildebeest in google and see what comes back.

    July 18, 2008 at 4:17 pm |
  12. Jennifer - Michigan

    WOW! Amazing pictures. Great video. The Masai Mara is one of the world's most magical places. The violence and greed that is growing in that area is very disheartening though. I'm not sure when things will calm down again. Too many poachers could endanger their incredible trek, what a bummer. Hopefully soon it will taper down a bit. One day, I hope to visit and witness it for myself.

    July 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  13. FRIEDA

    I am surprised you guys have not blamed it on Bush's administration or Global warming!!

    July 18, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Reader

    It suppose to be spelled as Beast, not beest.

    July 18, 2008 at 11:30 am |
  15. Cindy

    It is sad that these beautiful animals are being trapped or shot and killed by poachers for food. I hope that the ranger's blog can stir up enough interest to get more money coming in so that they can keep the poachers out. And hopefully people will see that all is calm again and will start going back to see the magnificent sites there. It would be a shame to lose these animals forever!

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 18, 2008 at 11:09 am |