An article recently written by the BBC, referencing research carried out by the International Livestock Research Institute has found that wildlife numbers have been falling in the Masai Mara between 1989 and 2003. This is thought to be a result of growing human settlements in land bordering the reserve:

“Our study offers the best evidence to date that wildlife losses in the reserve are widespread and substantial. These trends are clearly linked to the increase in human settlements on lands adjacent to the reserve.”

In particular numbers of giraffe, impala and warthog have been falling and this has a negative knock-on effect for the predators who depend on grazing animals for their own food source.

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It is believed that the loss of animal numbers is down to increased grazing of cattle in the reserve – an illegal activity, and a switch of some of the Maasai from conservation and tourism to agriculture. Wildlife also move from the reserve to bordering ranchland and as such are increasingly competing for habitat with Maasai livestock. However, some Mara experts doubt the findings of the research – based on direct personal experience and the validity of the methodology itself. The blog argues that in 2003 the situation in the Mara was very different to today – poaching was a real problem and one that has been brought under greater control through increased poaching patrols and protection. It argues that despite the recession there is sufficient funds to carry out anti-poaching and de-snaring on a daily basis.

‘Safe havens’?

Scientists also argue that the traditional nomadic-pastoralist way of life of the maasai has also played an important role in helping to conserve wild animals. Traditionally, the Maasai livestock is moved seasonally is search of water and pasture and by doing this on a well-patterned basis the land is able to re-generate. According to Kibwana and Masandika this pattern rhymes well with the migratory system of wildlife. As a result of ‘growing communities of pastoralists and their exclusion from the development of land policies has made their traditional way of life difficult to maintain’ and many have moved to permament settlements bordering reserves.

Robin Reid, a co-author of the ILRI paper who is now director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University in the United States argues that ‘there appears to a be a ‘tipping point’ of human populations above which former co-existence between Masaai and wildlife begins to break down. In the villages on the border of the Mara, this point has been passed, but larged areas of the Mara still have populations low enough that compatibility is still possible’.

However, there is a potential solution as suggested by the ILRI. They are helping to promote schemes where Maasai living next to game reserves receive rent payments from private game lodges in return for allowing wildlife to continue to roam on their property and tourism companies are working with Maasai landowners to establish conservancies where they can manage the number of settlements and livestock to try and acheive an equilibrium. The community also receives a share of the profits from tourism on their land, creating an incentive to maintain wildlife numbers.

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And the recession…..?

Although this article does not deal directly with the potential impacts of the recession, tourism, sustainable development and conservation are inevitably impacted by the recession but the form this impact will take remains unclear. A fall in tourist numbers could decrease revenues for parks and reserves and thus the amount of money spent on conservation methods, such as anti-poaching measures and the amount of revenue received by the Maasai to aid in conservation. As their income decreases, will deforestati0n and poaching actually increase as a means to obtain an alternative income source or will there be less incentive to monitor livestock?

However, it could also lead to a decline in ‘lower-end’ trips to the Mara and the congestion, overcrowding and negative knock-on effects that brings for wildlife numbers and disturbance. Tourists have a role to play if, and when, they do decide to visit the Mara – they can help support lodges that support local communities and have sound conservation practices and choose not to visit those that don’t. Perhaps the recession will make us more thoughtful about the ways we do decide to spend our money?

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