Cattle crisis

Being new to the Mara has been an interesting experience for me in observing the high levels of cattle grazing the plains. Having previously worked in more central Kenya I’m used to seeing livestock and wildlife mixed together but the levels here are quite concerning. Not just because cattle compete with wildlife for grazing but because of the many factors that accompany high levels of livestock. Whether this grazing is the result of the recent drought or whether it is more entrenched is hard to say.

Stray dogs have come past our camp, presumably distantly accompanying a herdsman and his livestock. The dogs may be harmless enough but they can carry diseases such as canine distemper and rabies, which in the past have already wiped out the Mara’s wild hunting dog population and caused a crash in the lion numbers. Diseases carried by domestic animals are a direct threat to all wildlife in the Mara, and threaten the entire ecosystem (and therefore income from tourism).
We’ve seen large herds of cattle inside the reserve both day and night but what we saw last night was most depressing. On our way out filming for the evening we noticed 3 starving and emaciated young cows that clearly abandoned near our camp. When we returned 12 hours later, we made a grisly discovery of around 20 hyenas feeding on all 3 of them. One calf was still alive for a few minutes so there could be no doubt that hyenas had made the kills. But what were the cows doing there? This is not the role hyenas are meant to play in the ecosystem; they should be maintaining the plains game population levels, keeping the fit animals fit with their chasing, as well as taking out sick and diseased animals. There aren’t enough hyenas to do that as well as deal with the inevitable fallout of drought combined with massive overstocking of cattle, sheep and goats.
We’ve come to the Mara to film romping lions and hyenas in their natural environment, let us just hope that this behaviour doesn’t become a common occurrence.

post written by Tom ‘Cakeboy’ Stephens


xl said...

Maybe the hyenas simply took the cows as easy targets of opportunity?

Madame DeFarge said...

Do you know why there are fewer hyenas?

ammonite said...

XL Madame DeFarge
the hyenas definitely took the cow as easy targets - they couldn't resist - but this does mean that they are less likely to weed out sick animals from the wildebeest herds - one of their crucial contributions to plains wildlife

There are fewer hyenas mainly because of herders using an insecticide called FURADAN to poison them (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/26/60minutes/main4894945.shtml) and which also kills lions, and vultures.