Interactions between large herbivores and cattle in the African savanna ecosystem Maasai Mara

Interactions between large herbivores and cattle in the African savanna ecosystem Maasai Mara

Terese Bech Eriksen: MSc student at Department of Biology at Aarhus University

Supervisors: Robert Buitenwerf and Jens-Christian Svenning

The aim of my project is to investigate how the livestock is affecting the distribution and function of herbivores in Mara North Conservancy for the purpose of gaining knowledge that can inform and guide the future management of the conservancy and conservation of the ecosystem. 

Maasai Mara consists of both a national reserve, which is fully protected, and several mixed-use conservancies, which are partly protected consisting of both conservation and pastoralism land use. One of these conservancies is Mara North Conservancy. Here the Maasai landowners lease their land to the conservancy and are paid fixed monthly lease payments by the conservancy safari camps, which on the other hand is allowed to do game drives with tourists in the conservancy.

As a result of this partnership between the private tourism sector and the landowners a sustainable and effective protection of the wildlife is ensured providing benefits for all stakeholders involved.

Additionally, there has been put a limit on the number of livestock and implemented a rotational grazing scheme of the cattle to avoid overgrazing and degradation of the savanna ecosystem.

I will investigate how the rotational grazing scheme are affecting the distribution of herbivores with some species expected to avoid the livestock and some expected to seek or follow them. Additionally, I will investigate how well the pastoralists adhere to the grazing scheme by looking at where the livestock are distributed and how the rotational grazing is affecting the vegetation.

I will be collecting distribution data on different herbivore species and data on grass height using the strip transects method. This is a car-based sampling method where animal densities are estimated based on counts of animals within a given distance to the road. The transects will have a length of approximately 1 km and a width of 200 meters.

My data collection will be conducted in Mara North Conservancy from October to November 2023. During my fieldwork I will be staying at Karen Blixen Camp. Karen Blixen Camp Trust is a partner in Maasai Mara Science and Development Initiative, offering research facilities at the camp at a reduced rate.