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Great Migration Floods Impact: What Guests Travelling in High Season Need to Know

Author: Selene Brophy - 21 May 2024

Last Update: 22 May 2024

Concerns are high that The Great Migration, one of nature’s most spectacular events, is being impacted by climate change, following significant flooding ahead of the upcoming high season between June and October.

While the floods have impacted some areas, safari operators and local authorities have taken extensive measures to ensure the safety and enjoyment of travellers who have booked and planned a trip to East Africa in the coming months.

In this guide, we examine the floods’ impact on Great Migration safari access, share on-the-ground assessments of infrastructure damage and current repairs underway, and discuss support measures being taken to guard against future impact.

Read on to set your mind at ease about what to expect for your upcoming Great Migration Safari, which remains a prime wildlife experience in Africa.

Current Conditions: The larger safari routes and camps across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem remain accessible and open, and Discover Africa Safari’s Head of Product Murielle Vegezzi confirmed that the travel company’s preferred partners continue to operate normally for the upcoming High Season. 

May 2024 Floods and Climate Change Impact

The heavy rains at the end of April and early May caused devastating floods in East Africa, specifically in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Somalia.

It has led to the severe displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and an estimated 250 people lost their lives in Kenya alone.

The flooding affected the region’s three main waterways—the Mara, Talek, and Sand Rivers, with widespread damage to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and dams. Rescue and relief efforts have been underway over the past few weeks to restore and rebuild the affected areas.

Kenya experiences its long rainy season from March until May, so heavy rainfall at this time of year is normal. However, this year has been on a different scale, and according to the Kenya Meteorological Department, it is expected to continue into June.

Joyce Kimutai, the principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, believes a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and human-caused climate change is at work. This means a climate pattern where warm waters are pushed to the western part of the Indian Ocean, as a hotter atmosphere increases evaporation and air holding more moisture can produce more intense rainfall.

Kimutai, who led a group of 10 researchers for a World Weather Attribution study on the impact of human-caused climate change, found that the magnitude of the rainfall has near-doubled in intensity “due to the global warming.”

Weather Forecast for June and July

The Kenya Meteorological Department’s weather forecast for May through to July shows the country is “expected to receive occasional rainfall in May and generally remain dry in June and July.”

Zoom Earth, a real-time satellite weather tracking app, showed recent cyclone activity near the coast of Kenya is disintegrating offshore. 

Some occasional light rainfall is forecast for  June and July, according to Kenya Meteorological Department, across the Highlands East of the Rift Valley, including Nairobi County and parts of the Southeastern lowlands.

Flood Response and Safety Measures

With close to 200 lodges operating across the Kenyan Maasai Mara region, less than 10% were initially impacted. While the Mara Managers Association (MMA) has an extensive list of rebuilding operations underway, the exact number is unconfirmed, the association’s spokesperson Julie Lovens told Discover Africa. Lovens is also the co-owner and director of Olimba Mara Camp in the Mara region. The MMA is a collective of professional camp managers in the Masai Mara formed to address the impact of the flood concerns, with the ongoing aim to support the region’s tourism sector and local communities.

“The floods led to the displacement and destruction of numerous camps and lodges, including severe damage to property and infrastructure. Key access bridges such as the Talek Gate Bridge, Mara Simba Bridge, and Mara Rianta Bridge were also heavily damaged and require immediate reconstruction, stated Lovens.

Affected lodges confirmed hardly any bridges were washed away on the greater Mara side, with the Mara Rianta bridge being used as an “alternative route to the Mara bridge connecting Keekorok Road to Serena that had been washed away.”

Lovens added, “There has been a lot of infrastructural damage, especially for the camps along Talek River. Everyone is working hard to be fully operative for the high season. Some camps have already re-opened, and others have announced their re-opening for mid-June and July.”

Rebuilding is being hampered by the ongoing rainy season, but there is a “massive effort” to have all the necessary bridges passable as soon as possible, added Lovens.

Community  Support

The floods have also severely impacted local communities, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and disrupting essential services. There has been a widespread appeal for international organisations to provide essential supplies, financial aid, and expertise in disaster management.

This week, Kenya’s President William Ruto restructured the National Steering Committee on Drought Response, renaming it the National Steering Committee on Disaster Response. Now chaired by Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa, this committee will mobilize resources for national emergency responses to natural disasters like floods, fires, and earthquakes. Additionally, the private sector-led National Drought Mitigation Appeal Fund, managed by the Kenya Red Cross, has been renamed the National Disaster Response Appeal Fund to support relief activities and enhance national resilience against disasters.

The Kenya Red Cross has launched a dedicated Flood Fund to help ensure prompt relief and assistance to the thousands of affected households. This is only one of the many local and international organisations assisting the flood victims in Kenya right now.

Wildlife and Ecosystem Resilience

While there are circulating reports about wildlife casualties due to the flooding, few confirmed reports have been received as the industry remains optimistic about the resilience of the region’s ecosystems and wildlife.

Mara Bushtops shared how two giraffes and a topi were caught in the floodwaters when the Talek River broke its banks. “We believe that most wildlife escaped the deluge,” it said. 

Despite the challenges, stakeholders are confident that the Maasai Mara will provide a memorable safari experience for visitors in the upcoming high season starting June 2024.

Active members in the MMA group have also continued to share wildlife sightings as the region recovers from the impact.

The Great Migration High Season Explained:

The Great Migration is a dynamic phenomenon. While some months offer high-density viewing opportunities, others present a challenge in locating the dispersed herds. The best time to see the wildebeest herds is literally a moving target.

Late July through September is considered the high season. The herds generally start in the Southern Serengeti, traversing through Central, Western, and Northern Serengeti before crossing into Kenya’s Masai Mara, after which they’ll make their way back towards the south. 

TAKE A LOOK: HerdTracker’s new predictor map uses ten years of migration data to help travellers accurately plan their great migration safari. It provides a 12-month view of where the herd could be spotted.

HerdTracker AI Tracking Tool
HerdTracker uses an AI Clustering Technique accurately predict where to see the Great Migration.

Dry Season:  June to October

The high season is also the dry season in the Serengeti. This is when water becomes scarce, and the herds move towards more reliable water sources, often resulting in more predictable and concentrated sightings. Factors like rainfall and flooding can impact the timing of a herd’s river crossing.

These river crossings frequently provide some of the best view experiences – Discover Africa’s partner lodges and expert guides on the ground have shared insights into the popular river crossings of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara.

 

Do you need more information about the upcoming high season? Or would you like expert guidance on  planning your migration safari? Reach out to a Discover Africa travel expert today. 


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