Cramped Conditions

I wasn’t prepared for the drive to the Mara. The last time I drove was in 1984 – ever since then, I’ve flown. The air route goes over some dramatic rift valley scenery, then a bit of semi desert before arriving at the relatively green oasis of the Western Mara.

The land route is completely different, and has to take a Northward direction before heading south to the plains. In 1984, I remember seeing giraffes and gazelles less than an hour out of Nairobi. This time, at the same place all we found was one roadkill zebra being eaten by dogs. Another hour down the way, the transformation was even more complete. What was scrub and dry empty plains 25 years ago is now endless fields of wheat. What was a significant wildebeest and zebra migration route is now the breadbasket of Kenya – if not much of East Africa.

As we drove South to Aitong, it was clear that the number of people and cattle living here had increased enormously. As we got close to the Mara reserve, we could see that a huge number of cows, sheep and goats had cropped the grass to the limit. But as is often the case here, we could also see huge numbers of wildebeest surrounding the cattle, drawn to the fresh green growth – which is in part due to the intensive domestic stock grazing (much of which has been brought here from other areas – because of drought, this is the only grass in Kenya). Whether or not we find more predators in the areas where there are most wild animals (often where there are cows and Masai) or where there is less disturbance from people remains to be seen. Watch this space.


kate said...

In 1995 when I drove through the same route you just took I remember my professors being shocked at how much more wheat and how many fewer open plains they saw since only the previous summer or 1994. I can't even imagine what it must look like now, 14 years later.

That summer we studied how intensive cattle grazing affected the grass diversity. Much less diverse in grazed areas, more so in natural areas. I hope the Kenyan government can see what's happening before it is too late.


Madame DeFarge said...

What effect will this have on the wildlife? If the predators get drawn into the wildebeest (et al) being drawn in turn, does that make life difficult for the predators with increased contact with man?

xl said...

Is the crowding on the outside having an effect upon the wildlife within the Mara?

PS: Please, don't film skydiving video!

ammonite said...

All of these questions have related and very difficult answers, the relationship between the conservationists and the farming communities is tense to say the least but there are quite a lot of interesting initiatives to try and make compromises on the go.

I think The Director will write more about these issues.

The short answer xl is YES the crowding affects the Mara massively

... and also scary video we have made a film about peregrine falcon using skydiving cameramen