Maasai Mara national reserve. Archives - Rhino Review

Wild animals rule deserted Mara as coronavirus keeps visitors away (Kenya)

By Conservation, Tourism

James Kahongeh & George Sayagie, The Daily Nation
May 7, 2020

See link for photo.

On regular days, the Narok-Sikinani road is a busy thoroughfare as vans transport groups of tourists in and out of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

This newly-tarmacked road is the gateway to the world famous safari destination.

Original photo as published by The Daily Nation. An elephant is pictured at Governor’s Camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve following reduced human activities over the Covid-19 pandemic, May 6, 2020. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION

Today, the 86-kilometre stretch is almost devoid of traffic. Not a single tourist has visited the Mara in more than 60 days.

Senior Warden Alex Sindiyio told the Nation that nature was taking a much deserved break.

“The animals are now at peace. They’re roaming freely and grazing without distractions,” Mr Sindiyio said.

Many Tourists

Every year, the Maasai Mara, known for its large population of lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and millions of herbivores, hosts over 300,000 domestic and international tourists.

March, April and May may be low tourist months, but never before in its almost 60-year existence has the 1,510 square-kilometre reserve been as deserted as it is presently.

Narok Governor Samuel Tunai noted that, even during turbulent times in the country, the Mara has always had visitors. A total shut down, though, is unprecedented.

“The only time the park has been nearly as deserted was during the 2007/2008 post-election skirmishes when tourist numbers fell drastically,” said Governor Tunai, who is also the tourism and wildlife committee chairman at the Council of Governors.

The absence of human beings in the park due to the Covid-19 crisis, though, is a blessing in disguise according to Governor Tunai, who said the animals were on holiday.

“This crisis will allow us to look at what we’ve been doing wrong. As custodians of the Mara, conservation comes first for us. Going forward, we might have to limit the number of visitors so that the animals aren’t disturbed,” he said.

Waste Control

With no tourists visiting the national reserve, waste has also been controlled.

While the park management is strict on littering, some tourists still dump bottles and snack wrappings that ecologists warn not only threaten the safety of wildlife but also change their behaviour.

There has also been a lot of rainfall since the beginning of the year, the highest in more than 20 years, according to senior chief park administrator Christine Koshal.

Roads in the park are always under maintenance for ease of movement of tour vehicles, but some of them have fallen into disuse and are flooded. With most workers sent home, maintenance has had to stop.

Mara Triangle CEO Brian Heath fears that, if the rains continue, the roads might be rendered impassable.

Great Migration

The annual wildebeest migration is near. In a month’s time, millions of gnus will begin the march north, only this time, the phenomenon that pulls thousands of tourists to the banks of Mara River will exclusively be nature’s affair.

Presence of tour vans in the reserve boosts safety of the animals by warding off poachers, according to the park management. Now, the animals, especially rhinos and elephants, have become more vulnerable.

Patrols have been stepped up with rangers and officers from the General Service Unit (GSU) and Tourism Police dispatched to the Mara to protect wildlife and investors’ properties and to monitor the porous border with Tanzania that poachers like to use to cross between the two countries.

When normal human activity returns to the Mara in the next few months, the quiet and natural order will once again be thrown off-balance.

For now, the animals will continue to enjoy the monopoly of the wild.

Kenyan wildlife policies must extend beyond protected areas

By Conservation, Land conservation
Peter Tyrrell, The Conversation | December 18, 2019

Read the original story here

At least 15% of the world’s surface is governed by laws to protect its living species, including plants, animals and fungi. But this is not enough. The most recent estimates suggest that an additional 30% of the planet’s surface needs further conservation attention. Without this additional protection the world will continue to lose large numbers of species.

What does this look like when we scale down to the country level?

Our research focuses on Kenya—a country renowned for its natural environment, in particular its large mammals such as elephants, rhinos and lions. We looked into whether Kenya’s protected areas and policies adequately conserve its less well known mammals, birds, and amphibians.

We examined a total of 1,535 species. We used this snapshot of the country’s biodiversity because of the availability of data for these groups and because many are under threat.

In Kenya, protected areas that are governed by wildlife laws fall under three categories. These are: national parks (managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service), national reserves (managed by county governments) and conservancies. National parks and reserves cover about 8% of the country’s land surface. About 160 conservancies protect about 11% of Kenya’s land.

These protected areas were generally established in areas with large populations of big mammals and are the focus of the current wildlife policy. This policy aims to protect these species inside national parks and reserves and help landowners coexist with wildlife in conservancies. It gives landowners the right to benefit from wildlife, for example through revenue from eco-toursim and compensation for the costs of living with wildlife.

The number of wildlife conservancies has grown to protect the many of the large mammals which are found outside government protected areas.

Despite this, we found that only 16% of amphibian species, 45% of birds, and 41% of mammals are adequately conserved within government run protected areas and conservancies. Many species need attention in areas that are not supported by wildlife policies or laws.

Kenya is developing a new wildlife policy and conservation master plan. Protected areas and conservancies must be supported. But our research shows that new and innovative wildlife policies and practices are needed to adequately protect many of Kenya’s species.

Collecting Data

For our study, we developed a data set that categorised land into different types of use:

· protected areas and conservancies (which are covered by current wildlife policy),

· forest reserves (managed by Kenya Forest Service),

· rangelands (areas grazed by livestock),

· forests, urban areas and agriculture.

We then used data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature database and Birdlife International to examine whether a species’ range was within a protected area, which other land-use options were important for conservation and which species needed more of their range to be protected.

Finally we used data on the human footprint – which includes information on built environments, cropland, human population density, night‐time lights, railways and roads. It allowed us to assess how pressure from people affects various species and which types of land use exert the highest pressures.

Inadequate Protected Areas

We found that many of the areas with the highest numbers of different species are found where considerable human pressures exist. These are often farmland areas, close to development, or rangelands. Substantial conservation efforts outside protected areas, and beyond the current policy focus, are required to ensure the longevity of these species in Kenya.

Worryingly, 80 species weren’t covered by any protected area at all. Many face immediate threats from human activities to their survival—such as the critically endangered Taita warty frog (Callulina dawida).

The highest density of large mammals is found in areas with the lowest human pressures. This is currently where wildlife policy focuses. Yet we show with locally acquired data that the number of bird and plant species can be highest in areas with considerable human pressures.

This same trend can be found in wildlife policies across much of the continent: a focus on protected areas and large mammals, with little consideration for broader biodiversity in systems dominated by humans.

Rangelands, Farms and Cities

Of all land uses we assessed, rangelands—which cover 67% of the country and mostly drier areas—are extremely important for conservation efforts. They cover the largest area of land and provide range for the majority of species.

Conserving wildlife and biodiversity in rangelands, which are dominated by livestock, is both possible and necessary.

People and animals can co-exist in these areas. For instance, in Kenya’s rift valley there are communities that protect large tracts of land to support the free movement of people, livestock and wildlife.

Urban and agricultural areas are often overlooked and are also important for conservation.

For instance, there’s a mosaic of green space in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi—in the form of a national park, urban parks, forest reserves and residential gardens. It hosts as many bird species as the Maasai Mara national reserve. As cities grow, urban planning needs to consider biodiversity.

Lessons can be learnt from cities such as London and Washington DC. London, for example, supports key species by protecting open spaces and their habitat.

Taking care of forest patches within farmland is also crucial. In southern Uganda, for example, preserving forest patches in intensive agricultural land may benefit some bird species.

Future Conservation Efforts

Kenya needs to prioritise conservation interventions at the national level, across land-use types to conserve a large number of its mammals, birds and amphibians. To do this, policymakers must use data to identify key areas of habitat and species range that can be conserved.

Kenya should also develop “National Red Lists”, as has been done in Uganda and South Africa. This could help target action for threatened species.

To monitor progress, there should be local programmes to collect and summarise data on the environment, biodiversity, land use, human demographics and economic indicators. This will help to prioritise action too.

Our research echoes international calls for landscape‐based approaches to conservation. The call is to balance competing land uses in a way that is best for human well-being and the environment. This would mean policy reforms that integrate conservation with all other sectors of land use.

Without this, landscapes in Africa may end up in a similar situation to those of Europe and America, needing expensive, large-scale restoration and recovery strategies to protect biodiversity.

Peadar Brehony, PhD Candidate (University of Cambridge), who has focused on the impact that conservation efforts have on socio-ecological systems, contributed to this article.