Master thesis result: The effect of shoats on wild herbivores in a semi-protected conservancy in Maasai Mara

The thesis made by Line Ochelka, Cand.scient., Department of Biology, Aarhus University (Denmark) recommends to regulate the numbers of shoats and to include them in the current rotational grazing plan to avoid overgrazing.

The Maasai traditionally keep cattle, but keeping shoats have become more common. The shift from cattle to shoats is due to several benefits by keeping shoats, as shoats are more drought resistant, have lower feeding requirements and they are being used as a living ATM because they are easier to sell than cattle. However, shoats do not have the same importance in a traditional Maasai household as cattle, thus, the increasing number of shoats are not being taking into account when planning conservation work. The increasing number of shoats have the potential to influence the savanna ecosystem and wildlife. If shoat numbers continue to rise, the competition for resources and space between shoats and wild herbivores will increase. Today, wildlife roams inside protected and outside in semi-protected areas. Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR), located in the southeastern part of Kenya, act as a fully protected area for wildlife, and Mara North Conservancy (MNC) is an adjacent semi-protected area. MNC has implemented a rotational grazing scheme in order to prevent overgrazing by cattle. However, shoats are not included in the grazing scheme and knowledge on shoats in African savannas are limited.

The results from the master thesis study performed by Line Ochelka, Cand.scient., Department of Biology, Aarhus University (Denmark) were collected by using strip transects and illustrates that the overall density of wildlife is higher around the settlement areas, however, this varies from species to species including body size and feeding ecology. Despite the influence from settlements and shoats, shepherds and dogs does not seem to be responsible for negative or positive responses from wild herbivores.

Due to the negative response from settlement areas on Grant’s gazelle, topi and impala, and the negative trend from the presence of shoats on giraffes, eland, topi, wildebeest and zebra it would be advised to include shoats in the future management plans and use sustainable grazing management in savanna ecosystems, where both domesticated and wild herbivores can forage side by side. According to different studies, rotational grazing with shoats should be considered.

Link to the Master thesis: