Future research priorities for conservation management in the Masai Mara

GroupPicture_MasaiMaraWorkshopThe Masai Mara in southern Kenya offers some of the most spectacular wildlife sightings on the planet. Exceptionally high densities of large predators and the annual wildebeest migration attract a large number of visitors each year. However, in recent years scientist witnessed a drastic decline in many wildlife populations. Human population growth seems to be the key driver of these changes and the major challenge in upcoming years will be the coordination of land use to ensure development as well as conservation goals.

In September 2017, the Mara Herbivore Project organized a workshop to identify research priorities to support the conservation management of the Masai Mara National Reserve and the adjoining conservancies. The invited participants included protected area managers and research programme directors from the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya Wildlife Service, Enonkishu Conservancy, Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association, Kenya Wildlife Trust, Mara Predator Project, Peregrine Fund, Hyena Project, and of course the Mara Herbivore Project. After a day of brainstorming and intense discussion, we voted on the importance and urgency of 35 research questions raised within three main categories: (i) habitat & species management, (ii) management of tourism & exploitation and (iii) livestock management & human wildlife conflict. Ranked highest by all participants was the question how habitat fragmentation due to increased fencing of private land effects wildlife populations in the Masai Mara. Many species in the area conduct seasonal movements in response to differences in monthly rainfall and currently there is no knowledge on how these spatial dynamics are affected by fencing. Other important questions were related to the strategic location of new wildlife areas, the impact of tourism infrastructure on wild populations and the effect of livestock management on resource availability within the reserve.

To raise awareness for the urgent threats the team led by Jakob Bro-Jorgensen published an article in SWARA, a magazine published by the East African Wildlife Society. It is aimed at non-specialists with a general interest in the problems experienced in today’s wildlife and habitat management.  The team hope that the article encourages a debate on the sustainability of current land-use practices, and that it leads to a closer cooperation between managers, researchers, and local communities in preserving the wider Masai Mara ecosystem.