More humans, less animals in the Mara

April 22, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 22 – Wildlife populations in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve have declined massively over the past quarter century due to pressures from a rapidly expanding human presence, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Between 1989 and 2003 the giraffe population in the Maasai Mara declined by 95 percent, warthogs by 80 percent and impalas by 65 percent, according to a report by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which tracked serious declines in four other hoofed mammals.

"These losses are widespread and substantial," Joseph Ogutu, who led the ILRI study, said in a statement. "And they are likely linked to the steady increase in human settlements on lands adjacent to the reserve."

The Maasai are a tribe of semi-nomadic herders, but they have increasingly settled in recent decades, upsetting the historic harmony that previously existed between the human and animal communities around the reserve.

Large scale crop cultivation, the massive expansion of permanent human settlements, and increased presence of livestock have deprived wildlife of grazing areas, leading to a decline in numbers.

"We know from thousands of years of history that pastoral livestock keeping can co-exist with Africa’s renowned concentration of big mammals," ILRI director general Carlos Sere said in a statement.

He said it was in the interest of the Maasai to preserve the wildlife as they receive a share of the revenue generated by tourists who visit the reserve largely to see the animals.

The researchers alleged that years of policy neglect by Kenyan governments have forced the Maasai into an environmentally unsustainable lifestyle.

"One of the problems is that the pastoralists own the land but the government owns the wildlife," Mr Ogutu told AFP.

But changes to Maasai life have in part been brought on by changing weather patterns and rise in periods of prolonged drought.

The Maasai Reserve covers 1,500 square kilometres in western Kenya and is central to the country’s wildlife driven tourism industry.



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