Jan 25, 2014

The most threatened habitat in Africa

Grassland under conversion to crops near Naro Moru - September 2013
Which is the most threatened habitat in Africa? Rainforest? No, you are wrong.
The truth is that highland grasslands are disappearing at a much faster rate than forests. And that is worrying, because grasslands host a lot of endemic and globally threatened biodiversity.
Highland grasslands are widespread in Africa, but their total area is not large. They occur in Southern, Eastern and Central Africa. In Kenya, much of the land above 2000m elevation used to be grassland at the beginning of the last century, and it was home to huge herds of wild herbivores, endemic birds, amphibians, reptiles and plants.
Just one century later, most of these grasslands are gone. Conversion to agriculture is the main cause of their disappearance, and unfortunately, as demand for food and cropland grow fast in Kenya - as anywhere else in Africa - rates of destruction are increasing.
In 2008, we surveyed the grasslands located on the northern slope of Mount Kenya, between Naro Moru and Nanyuki. We found quite large expanses of good grassland still existing, and along with them some interesting species such as the globally-threatened Sharpe's Longclaw (an bird endemic to Kenya).
Just five years later, at the end of 2013, we revisited the same grasslands, and could not believe to our eyes. Most of the grasslands were heavily damaged, some did not even exist any more. On the whole, we recorded 23% loss of area within just five years - a rate suggesting that in less than 15 year no natural grass will be left there.

Wild dogs in the Segera plains, north of Nanyuki, September 2013

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