Aug 28, 2012

Dr Liv visits the Mara!

It was just great to have the opportunity to visit the Maasai Mara Reserve again. I had not been there for many years. The Mara is one of the pearls of Kenya's protected areas system, and not for a chance. It is one of the best places in Africa to see wildlife.
The Mara is the northern end of the Serengeti ecosystem, one of the largest surviving pieces of East African savanna, and home of one of the few remaining spectacular seasonal migrations of terrestrial herbivores. Huge herds of mammals, mostly Wildebeest, but also large numbers of Common Zebra, migrate every year for hundred of Kilometers between Tanzania and Kenya tracking the growth of savanna grasses after the seasonal rains. The herds are in Kenya usually between August and November, though exact dates may vary from year to year. This is the landscape you see in the Mara these days - pretty amazing!
Amazing as it might look - things are not going well for wildlife in the Mara. Almost two millions of animals were involved in the migration in the 1970s but, sadly, numbers have greatly decreased in the last few decades. A recent analysis (Ogutu et al. 2011. Journal of Zoology 285, 99–109) suggests that the populations of most species of large mammals went down by >50% in the last 30 years. Here is one graph taken from Ogutu's paper, showing -64% in wildebeest numbers between 1977-2009.

What are the changes of these so big and continuing decreases, that affected almost all the species of resident and migrant mammals in the Mara? According to Ogutu, the main culprit is the continuing increase in human use of natural resources, and competition from ever expending numbers of domestic herbivores - such as cattle goats and sheep, as shown in the following graph:

Climate change is also to blame, as a series of bad droughts have struck East Africa in the last decades. And let me add that excessive disturbance from the huge number of tourists might also contribute to exacerbate the predicament of the Mara Wildlife. If I were a lioness - see below - I would not be that happy of having 5 to 10 cars, each one loaded with several humans, around me for most of the time...
One lioness, ten cars

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