The world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve may soon lose its glory and fame (and revenue) as a popular tourist destination if the current decline in wildlife in the expansive national reserve continues unchecked. It is no wonder it is getting harder and harder to spot game in the Mara nowadays.
Research is now revealing that in the past 3 decades, the numbers of impala, warthog, giraffe, topi and Coke’s hartebeest have declined by over 70%, while the African Cape Buffalo and wild dogs have all but disappeared. Even the wildebeest that pass through the region on their epic migration have reduced.
But on the other hand, the number of cattle grazing in the reserve has increased by more than 1,100%, says the findings published in the journal of Zoology. Scientists now have reason to believe this explosion in domestic livestock in the reserve is hugely responsible for the decline in wildlife in the Maasai Mara.
According to Dr Joseph Ogutu, a senior statistician in the Bioinformatics Unit of the University of Hohenheim, who led the research in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Mara has lost more than two-thirds of its wildlife. Ogutu and his colleagues attribute this decline to rampant poaching, changing land use patterns in ranches within the reserve and an increase in the number of range livestock there.
Over 1,500 poachers have been arrested within the Mara conservancy between 2001 and 2010, with more than 17,300 snares collected by rangers in the same period. The numbers of cattle, sheep and goats, on the other hand, has increased and their distribution has widened.
The density of cattle has increased more than three-fold and that of sheep and goats more than seven-fold up to 5 KM inside the reserve. Their study examined 12 species of large mammals, ostriches and livestock over a period of 33 years across the reserve, and in the Maasai pastoral ranches adjoining the reserve.
Out of the 12 large species studied, only ostriches and elephants seemed to be doing well outside the reserve. Inside the Maasai Mara, only eland, Grant’s gazelle and ostrich showed any signs of population recovery in the past decade – surprisingly, this trend is observed against a backdrop of concerted efforts between 2000-2001 to protect and conserve wildlife in the reserve.
The great wildebeest migration which once came close to being named the 8th wonder of the world and one which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists and millions of dollars in revenue every year to the country now has 64% fewer animals than it did in the early 1980s, the researchers say.
The Zebras have not been spared either. Their numbers in the reserve, according to the report, have also fallen by three-quarters. So if you have been wondering why you are seeing more livestock than wildlife in the Mara then be informed. Unless the government does something very soon, we will not be having any world wonder let alone the 8th one from Kenya!