Kenya says toll of wildebeests killed in floods exaggerated

( AFP ) - Kenya Wildlife Service on Saturday said floods that have wreaked havoc across Africa killed 5,000 wildebeests, and not tens of thousands, blaming tourists for exaggerating the toll.

Local conservation officials this week said the record flooding had killed at least 20,000 wildebeests making their way to Kenya during the annual "great migration."

In a report entitled "Unusual Wildebeest Mortality in the Mara River" the KWS said the toll was "2,000 wildebeests more than the yearly average of 3000 deaths every year."

"Tourists who saw the heap of about 2,000 carcasses were horrified by the sight and inflated the figure to more than 10,000 animals," the state-run agency said in a statement.

"Although 5,000 deaths is a heartbreaking loss, it is still a small fraction of the more than one million wildebeest in the Mara-Serengeti eco-system. The wildebeest deaths are replenished by the over 400,000 births every year," KWS added.

Patrick Omondi, KWS head of species conservation and management, said the wildebeest drowning was a natural selection phenomenon in a migration of more than a million animals.

"It's part of the population dynamics in the spectacular migration and there's nothing we could do about it. There is no rocket science to explain what happened when the animals' self-preservation instincts failed," he said.

The "great migration" -- dubbed the world's "eighth wonder" last year by the US network ABC -- is a major tourist attraction for Kenya and Tanzania.

Torrential rains and floods have ravaged much of sub-Saharan Africa in recent weeks, killing around 300 people and affecting 1.5 million others in 20 nations.

The worst floods the continent has seen in three decades has also destroyed huge amounts of crops and could prompt a major food crisis.

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