With no tourists to watch migration, Kenyan operator's planes are grounded

NAIROBI (Reuters) - June is the busiest time of the year for Kenyan-based safari operator Safarilink, as the company's small planes transport tourists to national parks in Kenya and Tanzania to witness the majestic annual migration of 2 million animals.
This year, the outbreak of the corona virus has halted these adventures in Kenya's Maasai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti.
Like other African airlines, Safarilink Aviation closed its airplanes in March after Kenya closed its borders and stopped air travel to curb the spread of the disease.
"During this time, we carry approximately 10,000 passengers a month on the Mara," said Alex Avedi, CEO of Safarilink Aviation. "As you can see, all the planes are parked, no one will see this great spectacle."
Safari lovers usually flock to the region hoping to spot hundreds of thousands of wildebeests fighting hungry crocodiles in search of greener pastures on the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Across Africa, game reserves and parks have closed because tourists stay at home. This affects the continent's billion-dollar tourism industry and leads to job cuts and loss of income for thousands.
"There is a whole community around these protected areas that are definitely affected and affected by (without) visitors. All people who provide food, groceries, guides, housekeeping, bartenders are very unhappy," Avedi told Reuters.
Many lodges outside of Nairobi had to close.
In the heart of the Nairobi National Park, a campsite of the safari company Gamewatchers was reopened on June 12th. The camp adheres to strict health guidelines, tests its employees on COVID-19 and checks the temperature of the visitors.
"The feeling that we opened today despite the conditions is great," said Joseph Lelenguya, manager of the Nairobi Tented Camp.
Most visitors are currently people living in Nairobi, like Pierre Chaumont, who moved from France to Kenya seven years ago.
"We saw lions this morning, buffalo, wild ostrich," Chaumont told Reuters.
But it will take some time for foreign tourists and their dollars to come back, Avedi said. "It could take a two to three year recovery," he said.
(Letter from Omar Mohammed; edited by Mike Collett-White)

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