April 23, 2009
Even if you don’t recognize the name of Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, you will be familiar with it from the thousands of photos and plentiful video showing the sweeping landscapes and well-known creatures—including lions, wildebeests, giraffes and hyenas. Now comes news, in a study in the Journal of Zoology, that there are far fewer of some of those animals than just 15 years ago.
Scientists rigorously monitored seven ungulate (hoofed) species—giraffes, hartebeest, impala, warthogs, topis, waterbuck and zebras—between 1989 and 2003. Abundance of all the species except for zebras “declined markedly and persistently throughout the reserve during this period,” the scientists write.
The Maasai people have traditionally been semi-nomadic herders, and a lifestyle in which they rarely consumed wild animals let them coexist with the Mara’s wildlife. However, in recent decades many of the Maasai have established more permanent settlements on the edge of the reserve, creating ranchland and cultivating crops. People sometimes allow their livestock to graze in the reserve itself, though it is illegal. There the domesticated animals displace the wildlife and degrade the land. In addition, land cultivation has resulted in less habitat for wild animals. And poaching, mostly by poor subsistence farmers, has also taken a toll.
The researchers warn that settlements near the reserve are expanding faster than ones farther away and that this will bring more conflict between the people and wildlife.
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