Expansion of human settlement in Kenya's Maasai Mara: what future for pastoralism and wildlife?


Richard H. Lamprey, Uganda Wildlife Authority, PO Box 3530, Kampala, Uganda. Tel.: +256 77 704596. E-mail: lamprey@infocom.co.ug


Aim  Wildlife and pastoral peoples have lived side-by-side in the Mara ecosystem of south-western Kenya for at least 2000 years. Recent changes in human population and landuse are jeopardizing this co-existence. The aim of the study is to determine the viability of pastoralism and wildlife conservation in Maasai ranches around the Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR).

Location  A study area of 2250 km2 was selected in the northern part of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, encompassing group ranches adjoining the MMNR. Emphasis is placed on Koyake Group Ranch, a rangeland area owned by Maasai pastoralists, and one of Kenya's major wildlife tourism areas.

Methods  Maasai settlement patterns, vegetation, livestock numbers and wildlife numbers were analysed over a 50-year period. Settlement distributions and vegetation changes were determined from aerial photography and aerial surveys of 1950, 1961, 1967, 1974, 1983 and 1999. Livestock and wildlife numbers were determined from re-analysis of systematic reconnaissance flights conducted by the Kenya Government from 1977 to 2000, and from ground counts in 2002. Corroborating data on livestock numbers were obtained from aerial photography of Maasai settlements in 2001. Trends in livestock were related to rainfall, and to vegetation production as indicated by the seasonal Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. With these data sets, per capita livestock holdings were determined for the period 1980–2000, a period of fluctuating rainfall and primary production.

Results  For the first half of the twentieth century, the Mara was infested with tsetse-flies, and the Maasai were confined to the Lemek Valley area to the north of the MMNR. During the early 1960s, active tsetse-control measures by both government and the Maasai led to the destruction of woodlands across the Mara and the retreat of tsetse flies. The Maasai were then able to expand their settlement area south towards MMNR. Meanwhile, wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) from the increasing Serengeti population began to spill into the Mara rangelands each dry season, leading to direct competition between livestock and wildlife. Group ranches were established in the area in 1970 to formalize land tenure for the Maasai. By the late 1980s, with rapid population growth, new settlement areas had been established at Talek and other parts adjacent to the MMNR. Over the period 1983–99, the number of Maasai bomas in Koyake has increased at 6.4% per annum (pa), and the human population at 4.4% pa. Over the same period, cattle numbers on Koyake varied from 20,000 to 45,000 (average 25,000), in relation to total rainfall received over the previous 2 years. The rangelands of the Mara cannot support a greater cattle population under current pastoral practices.

Conclusions  With the rapid increase in human settlement in the Mara, and with imminent land privatization, it is probable that wildlife populations on Koyake will decline significantly in the next 3–5 years. Per capita livestock holdings on the ranch have now fallen to three livestock units/reference adult, well below minimum pastoral subsistence requirements. During the 1980s and 90s the Maasai diversified their livelihoods to generate revenues from tourism, small-scale agriculture and land-leases for mechanized cultivation. However, there is a massive imbalance in tourism incomes in favour of a small elite. In 1999 the membership of Koyake voted to subdivide the ranch into individual holdings. In 2003 the subdivision survey allocated plots of 60 ha average size to 1020 ranch members. This land privatization may result in increased cultivation and fencing, the exclusion of wildlife, and the decline of tourism as a revenue generator. This unique pastoral/wildlife system will shortly be lost unless land holdings can be managed to maintain the free movement of livestock and wildlife.