How Obama photographer rescued tourists

Photographer hosts marooned tourists in Maasai Mara. (Courtesy)

The distress call came in at 2am Tuesday from a camp operator in Masai Mara.

The call startled David Macharia, the renowned photographer whose images of former US President Barack Obama catapulted him to national fame.

“Do you have space for guests at your place?” the caller inquired. “We need whatever space you have. The camp is being swept away.”

It was still raining outside and Macharia struggled to comprehend the message. But what he didn’t know at that point was that the tourist operator was calling from the top of a water tank where he and scores of tourists had sought refuge from the deluge.

“My diary indicated that I had a training session with a budding photographer. But that changed as lives were at stake,” says Macharia, who moved his photo studios from Nairobi to Masai Mara at the height of Covid-19 in 2021. He also set up several vacation units on leased land.

In the hours following the phone call, Macharia and his small team started receiving the unexpected, but frightened guests, dropped in by helicopters under the direction of the area Governor, Patrick Ole Ntutu.

“We took in 12 tourists and staff from different camps including Big Five, Talek Bush Camp, and Riverside Lodge, all located along Talek River. Parts of these camps were surrounded by water, turning some sections into islands. Some had to climb to the top of the water tank from two in the morning till dawn when they were rescued. Some were accompanied by their young children,” says Macharia, who helped prepare some meals for the weary travellers.

Macharia, whose photography majors on wildlife and their habitats, blames poor farming practices upstream for the unprecedented floods ravaging the region and aggravating the effects of climate change.

“The farming methods upstream are causing soil erosion. This means the ground cannot hold much water any longer, leading to flooding downstream. Sadly, all the waste from the urban settlements here such as Talek has been washed to the river that joins Mara River with detrimental effects on wildlife,” he says.

If the floods continue, they will affect accessibility to most of the camps leading to cancellations and loss of business for tour operators.

“I was to host a couple on honeymoon, but I am not sure how they will get here. Talek Town has been cut off from the rest of the Mara unless you are airlifted.” 



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