The Journal of Zoology this month features a paper, “Dynamics of Mara–Serengeti ungulates in relation to land use changes” by J. O. Ogutu, H.-P. Piepho, H. T. Dublin, N. Bhola, R. S. Reid, which outlines some alarming statistics about the decline in wildlife populations in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. The authors took monthly population surveys of seven species over a period from July 1989 to December 2003. They determined that declines in five of the seven species were “significantly correlated with increasing number of settlements and people in the pastoral ranches,” and cited poaching and livestock as specific problems. The species suffering declines are the kongoni (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii), warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), topi (Damaliscus korrigum), impala (Aepyceros melampus), giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), and waterbuck (Kobus ellipsyprimnus), in decreasing order.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve covers 1530 sq. km (over 590 sq. miles) in south-western Kenya, bordered to the south by the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and by Maasai ranches on the other sides. The Reserve is most well-known for the massive wildebeest migrations traversing from one end of the Maasai-Serengeti ecosystem to the other. Among the causes of wildlife decline cited, most striking to me were the enormous exponential increases in the number of bomas and huts bordering the Reserve, from four bomas in 1950 to 368 bomas in 2003, and 44 huts in 1950 to 2735 huts in 2003. This increase in human population was only exacerbated by the high levels of poaching. In the period between August 2001 to July 2004, “278 poachers were arrested and 1201 snares and 1200 kg of wildlife meat, belonging to at least nine different species, recovered”. The paper also reports that “Heavy illicit livestock grazing also occurred in the reserve, implying intensifying competition between wildlife and the large number of livestock grazing in the reserve.”

So what does all of this spell for the fate of Maasai Mara species? I’m lucky enough to be able to see most of these species here at work, but I’d love to go to Kenya someday to see them in their natural habitat. Proceeds from tourism go directly to supporting the people of Kenya, so they have a vested interest in ensuring the survival of wildlife in the reserve. Clearly, it’s time for Kenya’s government to ramp up poaching enforcement and curb the number of settlements bordering the reserve, but that might prove to be impossible. For now, having eye-opening statistics like these can only help the plight of the species by increasing awareness (I hope…?)

J. O. Ogutu, H.-P. Piepho, H. T. Dublin, N. Bhola, R. S. Reid. Dynamics of Mara–Serengeti ungulates in relation to land use changes. Journal of Zoology (p 1-14)
Published Online: Feb 10 2009 9:00AM | DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00536.x (link for subscribers/San Diego Zoo employees)

Wildlife numbers fall sharply in Maasai Mara reserve – Telegraph.

Widespread And Substantial Declines Found In Wildlife In Kenya’s Masai Mara – Science Daily.

AFP: Kenya wildlife devasted by increasing human impact.
Animal numbers fall in Kenya’s Maasai Mara | UK | Reuters .

In pictures: Masai Mara’s hoofed mammals in decline | .