Alex Lekishon @PeopleDailyKe
The Mara’s landscape is changing. Where once there were group ranches stretching over hundreds of thousands of acres, now lies individually fenced off parcels of land. This is having a huge impact on the seasonal migrations of animals because they can no longer use the same routes. Some of the animals are electrocuted as they attempt to follow the usual migration routes.
“Wildlife in the greater Mara ecosystem is currently under threat from increased agriculture, fencing, exponential human population growth, increasing livestock numbers, declining rainfall and increased infrastructure, urban and tourism developments.These threats lead to land use changes, human-wildlife conflict, reduction in wildlife numbers and a change in pastoralists way of life,” says Jackson Ole Taki, Pardamat Conservation area manager.
Threat to ecosystem
Following adaption by the Government of a land tenure policy favouring individual ownership, land owners in the Mara ecosystem started the process of sub-division of communal lands in 1984 with the first plot allocations undertaken around Talek.
Now wildlife conservationists in the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve have petitioned the local county government to ban fencing, saying it poses a threat to the ecosystem.
The conservationists led by Dickson Kaelo, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Organisation have raised concern over fencing of private land bordering Maasai Mara National Game Park, saying it is interfering with wildlife corridors.
“In order to curb this trend, conservancies should talk to local communities to ensure that they don’t fence off their land so that wild animals can pass through. The national government and Kenya Wildlife Service should work towards ensuring the animals are secure,” says Kaelo. Other conservationists have also vowed to come up with management plans to curb the trend.
The conservators led by Narok Wildlife Forum chairman Nicholas ole Murero says owing to land fragmentation and subdivision of group ranches, owners have sold or leased their land to private developers who have been fencing them to ward off wildlife.
Using mapped series of multi-spectral satellite imagery, researchers have found that conservancies with fences have increased by more than 20 per cent since 2010. Fences block migration routes for wildlife and further restrict access to natural resources such as salt licks, pasture and water to people, livestock and wildlife.
The ability of wildlife and livestock to survive droughts is also adversely affected by these fences, which act as barriers, distorting their natural drought survival strategies.
A common assertion amongst communities is that the fences act as barriers to exclude wildlife and other people’s livestock from what is now private property. While this is done to protect food crops, pasture and build up grass banks, there is lack of adequate knowledge of the long-term implications of fencing on their own livelihoods.
“We are not fencing because we don’t like wild animals; we are fencing because we want to prevent our neighbours from entering our land. Some of us have few animals that we can support on our land parcels, but others have large herds of livestock that they cannot support on their land, and they end up using our grass for their grazing,” Amos Kuntere Sermetei, Mara North conservancy land owner stated.
Work commissioned by the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) in Pardamat Conservation Area showed that as land sales increased around Pardamat, so did the number of fences.
A comparison of total area under fencing over a period of two years (2014 and 2015) showed the number of fences increased in number from 113 (in 2014) to 628 ( 2015), a 455 per cent increase. The area of land fenced increased by 219 per cent, from 2,441.5 acres to 7,813.3 acres.
Under great threat from the fences is the Loita migration route, which is at risk due to this and other incompatible land uses in the northern extent of the Mara ecosystem. It has declined by more than 60 per cent from approximately 113,000 in 1977 to 35,000 in 2009.
“The government should create incentives for land under conservation the same way it does for wheat and maize farmers, this will encourage communities to open more land for biodiversity conservation through allocation of resources,” says Jackson Ole Taki, Pardamat Conservation Manager.
One of the ways MMWCA is working with landowners to prevent the development and mitigate the impacts of fencing has been through setting up conservation areas. They are now renting out spaces to people interested in conserving wildlife.
“For Sh100,000 ($1000) one can free five hectares of land from fencing therefore rent room for wildlife,” says Ole Taki.