|Typical pastoralist scene near Lake Eyasi|
|Cattle numbers in south and east Africa (data from FAO database).|
|Do we always need to move cattle away from wildlife areas?|
As well as an increase in numbers, movements by nomadic pastoralists have been restricted - both from fences on commercial farms, by preventing them from using traditional grazing areas within protected areas and through policies designed and/or incidentally decreasing the nomadic lifestyle (compulsory schooling, forced settlement, provision of water points, etc.). In many pastoralist communities number of cattle is still the primary indicator of wealth, not quality of cattle. Even in communities where this perception is changing, there is a 'tragedy of the commons' that prevents effective herd reductions: if I'm a herder sharing grazing lands with others and I decide to reduce my herd size to get fatter animals, that has no impact if all the other herders around increase their cattle herds to eat the food my cows are no longer eating... All these things together mean that there are places within Africa where overgrazing (by both cattle and goats) is a serious concern, cause permanent damage to the ecology of a system, creating open soils that are easily eroded by water and wind and are then surprisingly hard to revegetate. Nothing (cattle or wildlife) can survive in these areas once the annual grasses are grazed off each year. Pastoralists seeing uneaten grass in their traditional grazing lands within protected areas are either thoroughly fed up with conservation, or go ahead and graze anyway (or both), potentially resulting in unmanaged grazing within protected areas with cattle unprotected from predators and real risks of lion killings inside protected areas.
Meanwhile, wildlife numbers in the wider countryside have fallen dramatically, with noted declines around 1940s (leading to formation of the National Parks and Game Reserves by the colonial authorities) and in the last 30 years. Reasons for these declines in the literature focus on unsustainable hunting/poaching and (for the recent decline) an increase in agriculture in rangelands (with new cultural groups moving in who have a taste for bushmeat), with increased competition for grass from increasing cattle populations a relatively minor issue , despite the numbers of opinion pieces that discuss its possibility (eg here and here). The best example of this comes from studies around the Serengeti and Mara ecosystems which experienced similar population changes, similar change in land use, but different conservation policies massive declines in wildlife only experienced in and around the Mara. Population declines of lions/large carnivores are a special case where human impacts are direct and perhaps primarily attributable to pastoralist communities, many of whom traditionally do not consume much bushmeat, or otherwise hunt large mammals (though see here for a good list of cultural hunting practices and note that only one of the reviewed communities has no records of hunting.) Despite these declines, in East Africa many wildlife populations are still reliant at least part of the time on land outside of protected areas (and with no realistic chance of being joined into one) - even the Serengeti migration crosses largely unprotected land as it moves from the western corridor to the north in June/July. If population declines are to be halted and reversed, wildlife is going to have to live alongside people.
|Maintaining a grazing lawn requires very heavy grazing, here at Grumeti|
|From here (shoats means sheep and goats)|
We could deal with undergrazing by either cutting grass and moving it outside the reserve to feed cattle (as happens in some reserves in Natal, and some conservancies in Kenya), we could change the fire regime to (partially) compensate, or we could allow cattle into protected areas at certain times and in certain places and with certain conditions fixed (EG - you let a lion eat your cow whilst you're in the reserve and there's no chance you'll be allowed to make a retaliatory killing...)
In many way, to me, the most sensible option seems to be to make use of cattle productively - not only could this benefit conservation and reduce the undergrazing problem we have, but it would also make local communities much happier about the protected areas in the first place. The key to making it all happen, of course, lies in effective control. Effective community control on total herd size can eliminate the tragedy of the commons. Without it, there's no way letting people with cattle inside protected areas will ever be a good idea. It would also need to be thought about clearly and monitored carefully, with local conditions dictating the activities. And we must always remember that there's an imbalance here: whilst buffalo and cattle are ecologically rather similar and we could use cattle to do a buffalo's job, when there's a shortage of resources ultimately it's cattle, with their human herders to help them, that will win out. So my feeling is that the wisest use of cattle in protected areas is likely to be seasonal: when there's a super-abundance of food (potentially to the degree that smaller grazers can't utilise the long grass), that's the time to make use of cattle. That also suits because the rainy season is also wildebeest calving season, and the only time wildlife really can win out over cattle is when they're calving, thanks to risks of disease transmission at this time.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts and I know other will have different (and possibly very strong!) views on this issue. (And if you don't come from an African conservation perspective I think you might be surprised to hear how heated the debate gets! In Europe cattle and sheep are very much part of the conservation picture...) I'd love to hear them! As I've often said when doing training, these are contentious issues and I really don't mind what you decide in the end, as long as you understand the issue and can discuss them in an informed manner!
Hanotte, O. (2002). African Pastoralism: Genetic Imprints of Origins and Migrations Science, 296 (5566), 336-339 DOI: 10.1126/science.1069878
Homewood, K. (2001). From the Cover: Long-term changes in Serengeti-Mara wildebeest and land cover: Pastoralism, population, or policies? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98 (22), 12544-12549 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.221053998
Prins, H. (1992). The Pastoral Road to Extinction: Competition Between Wildlife and Traditional Pastoralism in East Africa Environmental Conservation, 19 (02) DOI: 10.1017/S0376892900030587