Sustainable rangeland management supports coexistence of wildlife and livestock in northernmost conservancy of the Massai Mara ecosystem
In February 2020 Biosphere Expeditions and Enonkishu Conservancy ran for the second time a citizen science project to collect animal abundance and biodiversity data. The research team was based at the Mara Training Centre located at the Mara River North within Enonkishu Conservancy. This small conservancy (1700 ha) is the northernmost stretch of the Mara ecosystem where wildlife can roam before land use becomes dominated by human presence, specifically small scale, high intensity agriculture in a region with a high and growing human population. The land itself is Maasai land that has been hired to form a conservancy: previously exclusively used for cattle, land management now revolves around the coexistence of wildlife and domestic livestock (mostly cattle).
The expedition members set out on daily monitoring that consisted of various monitoring exercises. For the most important of these (mammal mapping), all medium to large size mammals (including domestic livestock) were recorded wherever they were found in a 40x40km block centred on the conservancy. This geospatial mapping exercise showed that west and north of the conservancy region, where land becomes agricultural, wildlife is no longer found: mammal records are dominated by various livestock. Within the conservancy and southwards (south and east of the Mara River), a large variety of wildlife are found: close to 40 mammal species were recorded at high density, including all top predators (lion, leopard, cheetah and hyaena). Record numbers of elephant were also recorded.
“We are grateful for Biosphere Expedition’s support and the monitoring work completed by the citizen scientists. 2020 has been once more a mutual learning experience for both the Enonkishu rangers and staff and the citizen scientists from all over the world. The knowledge gained will help us maintaining basic monitoring on a regular basis throughout the year”, says Rebekah Karimi, Enonkishu Conservancy’s Manager.
Nonetheless, human-wildlife conflict in this frontier region (‘The Last Line of Defence’) also occurs: elephant wander into fenced regions and become trapped, resulting in crop damage. Predation of livestock results in retaliatory action from Maasai herders. Unfortunately, increasingly poisoning events are being recorded by conservation bodies in the region, to which non-target species such as white-backed vultures are frequently unintended victims.
“There is so much more to explore within Enonkishu Conservancy and its neighbouring land” comments Dr. Alan Lee, the expedition scientist. “We developed a pretty good overall view from about 2,000 recordings taken in a month of surveying. But there are still remote areas we haven’t been able to get to yet. I am looking forward to continue exploring biodiversity and wildlife population dynamics next year.”
Next to ascertaining animal abundance and biodiversity, another objective of the project is to inspire rangers in diligent data collection to investigate the success of rangeland rehabilitation through monitoring of the conservancy’s biodiversity. This was achieved through rangers being intimately involved with the expedition and its data collection work. Exposure to citizen scientists and data gathering methods resulted in an immersive learning experience for both rangers and citizen scientists and helped to instil pride in the work done in both.
Outreach to a local secondary school also brought students into the conservancy for a day to view game and learn about the purpose and necessity of their neighbouring conservancy and its rangers. The learning experience was created by the expedition participants in order to share perspectives of conservation and the coexistence of people and wildlife.
Enonkishu Conservancy, the expedition’s core study area, is the northernmost conservancy in the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem (MSE) and although small supports the same wildlife species found throughout the reserve and neighbouring conservancies. The conservancy was founded in 2009, but only began to organise itself properly in 2014. Enonkishu’s stated aim is to preserve wildlife in tandem with ancient Maasai pastoral culture, allowing wildlife and cattle to share the same space in a sustainable way. Enonkishu, often called “the last line of defence”, also has a key role to play in defending the Mara from encroachment, as it is the bulwark that separates the wilderness of the Mara in the south from agricultural areas in the north.
Here are some photos and videos of the expedition: