Comparative changes in density and demography of large herbivores in the Masai Mara Reserve and its surrounding human-dominated pastoral ranches in Kenya
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Wildlife habitats in pastoral lands adjoining protected areas in east African savannas are getting progressively degraded, fragmented and compressed by expanding human populations and intensification of land use. To understand the consequences of these influences on wildlife populations, we contrasted the density and demography of 13 wild and three domestic large herbivores between the Masai Mara National Reserve and the adjoining pastoral ranches using aerial surveys conducted in the wet and dry seasons during 1977-2010. Species of different body sizes and feeding styles had different densities between landscapes and seasons. Small-sized herbivores, requiring short, nutritious grasses, and browsers were more abundant in the ranches than the reserve in both seasons. Medium-sized herbivores moved seasonally between landscapes. Larger-bodied herbivores, requiring bulk forage but less susceptible to predation, were more abundant in the reserve than the ranches. The proportions of newborn warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and juvenile topi (Damaliscus korrigum) were higher in the ranches, with shorter grasses and lower predation risk than in the reserve. These results suggest that pastoral lands adjoining protected areas in African savannas are important as seasonal dispersal and breeding grounds for wild herbivores. However, human population growth and dramatic land use changes are progressively degrading wildlife habitats in pastoral areas, thus restricting the seasonal wildlife dispersal movements between the protected areas and adjoining pastoral lands. Conservation efforts should focus on (1) creating and maintaining functional heterogeneity in protected areas that mimic moderate pastoral grazing conditions to attract small and medium-bodied grazers and (2) securing dispersal areas, including corridors, to ensure continued seasonal large herbivore movements between protected and pastoral systems.
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