In 2015, it was reported that the human population around the Maasai Mara was growing at 10.5% per annum, more than three times the national rate of 2.5% (Courtney et al.). This is resulting in the subdivision of land across much of the Mara landscape, resulting in continued rapid human population growth, through natality as well as immigration.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) is relatively small, at only 1,510 km2. The conservancies with mixed wildlife and livestock management make up another 1,400 km2 . The remaining 11,500 km2 of the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem is under severe threat from a mixture of land-use changes: expanding settlements, permanent buildings, crop-based agriculture, fenced plots, wildlife poaching and deforestation. Almost all of the traditional tribal land has been subdivided and title deeds given to individuals.
“The most important perceived threat is the loss and fragmentation of habitat caused by ongoing human population expansion and rapid land conversion.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Outside of the MMNR, individual Maasai landowners have parcels of land, which range in sizes of approximately 20 to 200 acres. The adjudication of land started in the early 1990s and continues to the present day. This fragmentation and associated fencing of the ecosystem is blocking key wildlife migration routes (corridors) and is rapidly accelerating human-wildlife conflict. Variable weather patterns, land fragmentation, increasing human and livestock populations, increased demand and use of non-consumptive resources greatly threatens this area.
The interpretation of wildlife dispersal areas actually means wildlife being present permanently and seasonally on private unprotected land in Kenya. The northern section of the ecosystem, including the MMNR and adjoining Loita Plains, provides crucial dispersal areas for large mammals. These rolling hills and valleys are also home to the Maasai people, who similarly depend upon the rich grasslands for the survival of their domestic livestock and traditional way of life.
“This is a war of space. Everyone is trying to carve out a living in this area.” Marc Goss, CEO, Mara Elephant Project
In ecological terms, space is not only about the size of the area, but also about the land that provides for the variety and distribution of resources that a species needs to endure. These include the variability in living conditions, the distribution of and distances between essential resources, the connectivity between ideal habitat and the configuration of ideal and marginal habitat.
“Kenyans are very concerned about development in the Mara and the impact on the environment and on what really is a global wildlife spectacle.” Paula Kahumbu, CEO, Wildlife Direct
As subdivision takes hold and the spread of human settlements and farms increases, escalating conflict between humans and elephants and subsequent loss of lives and property can be expected, unless measures are taken now to change this trend.
“In the Mara ecosystem, landowners are fencing their parcels of land to protect their crops or protect grass for their livestock. So, what that means is a fragmented ecosystem. The elephants are breaking through these fences and can destroy a farm in one evening; that creates huge chaos in the communities. Humans to react to this are shooting them with arrows, throwing spears at them, poisoning them. So, what us, as MEP have said: we will come and mitigate that conflict to push them out of farms.” Marc Goss, MEP CEO
As wildlife habitat is lost, biodiversity is also lost, and large mammals are generally lost as agriculture expands.
“We are trying to zone this country so that the land use, for example, around the Mara should be those that are compatible with wildlife conservation.” Patrick Omondi, KWS AG Director of Biodiversity, Research and Planning