The Masai Mara is the Kenyan segment of the Serengeti (savannah landscape. It comprises the Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR; 1,500 square kilometers) and the Masai Mara Ecosystem, which is mostly made up of surrounding pastoral ranches and agriculture. The MMNR is managed by the Narok and Transmara County Councils.
The MMNR is home to critically endangered, threatened, and vulnerable species: the African wild dog, Madagascar pond heron, and black rhino (CR); the Cheetah, common hippopotamus, lion, and lesser kestrel (V); 26 near threatened species; 80 least concern species. Populations of almost all wildlife species have declined to a third or less of their former abundance, both in the MMNR and in adjoining pastoral lands.
(Sunset on the Masai Mara. Image courtesy of Caitlin Kight.)
A large-scale wildebeest migration generates (through grazing, etc.) optimal conditions for other large mammals. The resident wildebeest population declined from 199,000 to 22,000 (by 80%) from 1977-1997 due to illegal hunting and land use change for agriculture. There is also ongoing large-scale vulture population decline due to decreased food availability (caused by changing land use and general wildlife population declines) and the poisoning of carcasses with carbamate pesticides (used to control hyena population). The magnitude of the decline warrants reassessment of the conservation status of Gyps spp.
The Masai people
The Masai are traditionally a nomadic people, communally utilizing resources within their land. Recent government policies have subdivided communal land into individual family ranches, resulting in increased fencing of land, and, therefore, reduced wildlife movement.
The government has been encouraging the Masai to engage in agriculture (with wheat being the predominant crop); most of the output from these farming efforts never reaches local markets.
(Ostriches in the Masai Mara. Image courtesy of Caitlin Kight.)
The 1977 Wildlife Conservation & Management Act bans poaching and reckless hunting of wild animals. Despite this, there are very high levels of poaching in the Masai Mara; from 2001-2010, over 1,500 poachers arrested and 17,300 snares were collected. Most poachers are poor subsistence farmers relying on bushmeat for nutrition and income. Approximately 160,000 resident and migratory herbivores are harvested illegally in the Mara-Serengeti every year.
Human population growth is driving need for more food–hence more agriculture. In the MMNR, land use has changed from traditional nomadic pastoralism to sedentary pastoralism and large-scale agriculture. Expansion of agriculture destroys natural habitats, alters landscapes and ecosystem services, and fuels human-wildlife conflicts (reducing local support for conservation). Perhaps most importantly, increased agriculture results in fencing off of farms, thereby disrupting wildlife movement and migration. In times of food or water scarcity, wildlife populations cannot move to better areas, and so starve or die of thirst.
Increases in agriculture have resulted in decreases in tourism as aesthetic appeal is lost.
Additionally, government bodies (at all levels) are prone to mismanagement and corruption; a lack of funding also makes it difficult for them to ably conserve the Masai Mara.
(Cheetahs in the Masai Mara. Image courtesy of Caitlin Kight.)
Content by: Rebecca Woodward, Said Gutierrez, Sonja Kaulbarsch, Shawna Sanfey, Anthony Schultz (MSc students)