Intrusion of Cattle Contibutes to a Wildlife Population Collapse in Kenya's Premier Reserve

zebras wildebeest photo

Photo credit: wwarby/Creative Commons

Researchers have known that wildlife populations in the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya have been falling. A new study, however, has revealed that the situation is much worse than previously thought.

Populations, in fact, have "collapsed"—with some species declining by as much as 70 percent in three decades.SLIDEHSOW: Africa's Great Migration of Wildebeest Shows "Swarm Intelligence"

Impala, warthog, giraffe, topi and Coke's hartebeest have been hit the hardest and numbers outside the reserve—which was established in 1961—are even more severe. There, buffalo and wild dogs have all but disappeared and the massive hartebeest migration now avoids the region.

More alarming, Joseph Ogutu, a bio-statistician who led the study, suggests, is that the number of cattle grazing within the Mara has increased by 1100 percent. Combined with poaching, researchers believe that this grazing is responsible for the declines.

"Not only have numbers of cattle, sheep and goats increased but their distribution has widened," Ogutu says, "with the density of cattle increasing more than three-fold and that of sheep and goats more than seven fold up to 5km inside the reserve." This increase, he explains, has coincided with a decrease in wildlife throughout the Mara.

While efforts to curb poaching must continue, the researchers recommend some resources are used to enforce the ban on grazing within the reserve.

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