Quiet a number of tour operators in Kenya have been looking forward to the re-opening of the Maasai Mara – Serengeti border at Bologonja and Sandrivers. But it seems like they might just have to wait longer. Tanzania will not agree to re-open the border point.
Officials from the countries Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources said they were not going to re-open the border point at this time citing the risk of environmental damage to the Serengeti ecosystem that might result from the massive tourist flow from the Kenyan side.
Mr. Ezekiel Maige, Deputy Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, also said Tanzania has no intention of reopening the border point at this time, as jointly agreed earlier with Kenyan leaders. Mr. Maige said there is a committee dealing with the issue, but the entry point will remain closed for environmental reasons.
Mr. Maige argues: “The fragile ecosystem of the area, which is a world heritage site, cannot be sacrificed for the mere purpose of shortening the route between Maasai Mara and Serengeti, which is also crossing point for wildlife during the annual migration.”
Tour operators in Tanzania also claim that the opening the Serengeti-Maasai Mara border point could kill Tanzania’s tourism as hundreds of Kenyan tour vehicles would enter Tanzania for game drives during the day and return to Kenya in the evening.
On the other hand, Kenya’s Wildlife and Tourism Minister Najib Balala has argued that the continued closure of the Bologonja entry point by Tanzania was not in spirit of the East African Community.
Mr. Balala said that opening the Bologonja-Sand River entry point would dramatically reduce the travel time between the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania. It would also signify a new official border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania.
Currently the tour operators in Kenya and Tanzania use the designated border points of Isebania-Sirari on the northern tip of Serengeti Park. Others have to drive clients all the way back to Nairobi for an overnight and then continue the next day, through the Namanga border to Arusha.
Private charter flights ferrying tourists between the 2 reserves have to be cleared at the Kisumu airport in Kenya and Musoma in Tanzania
Besides Isebania-Sirari and Namanga, the other authorized Kenya-Tanzania border crossing points currently are Holili-Taveta, and Horohoro-Lungalunga (Tanzania side listed first).
Part of the communication from the Tanzania Tourist Board read:
“The Tanzania Tourist Board would like to inform all diplomatic missions, within and overseas, tourist representatives, tour operators, travel agents, operators of tourist accommodation establishments, transporters, tourists and the public, that the sand river and Bologonja border crossing point connecting Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is not open,” the TTB communication reads.
“We would like our esteemed clients to note that Tanzania has no intention of reopening the border point. The entry point will remain closed for environmental reasons. The fragile ecosystem of the area, which is a world heritage site, cannot be sacrificed for the purpose of shortening the route between Maasai Mara and Serengeti National Park,” it added.
The Bologonja crossing point was closed over 30 years ago, when the earlier East Africa Community collapsed.
The Maasai Mara is part of the larger Serengeti eco-system. Tanzania has so far managed to control the development and exploitation of the Serengeti reserve. There are less than 12 tourist hotels, lodges and tented camps inside Serengeti National Park.
On the Kenyan side, there are over 50 properties -lodges and camps – in and around the Maasai Mara and nine lodges inside. The Mara hosts many more tourists and tour vehicles most of the times.