The Mara Count, 2002. The count that counts.


The 1999 Mara Count.

In 1999, our team invented a new way to count livestock, wildlife and people at a very high resolution (333 x 333 m grid cells) to study how wildlife interact with people and their livestock.

We developed this new technique so that we could collect information with enough detail to be useful to pastoralists and land managers on the ground.

Our study focused on the northernmost part of the 25,000 km2 Serengeti-Mara, consisting of parts of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and surrounding communal rangelands, which make up a small (5,500 km2) but critical dry-season grazing refuge for its abundant and diverse wildlife herds.

What did the count tell us?

  • there is as much wildlife outside in pastoral grazing areas as inside the reserve where only wildlife use is allowed,
  • people and livestock seem to attract some species of wildlife by creating short grazing lawns around settlements where we think forage nutrients are high and predators are visible to grazers,
  • other species of wildlife, like elephant and some carnivores, avoid people and livestock and are more common in the reserve, and
  • there also seems to be an ideal density of settlements where wildlife diversity is greatest; above or below this level, wildlife diversity is lower.

We think there are at least four explanations why some wildlife prefer to graze in landscapes with people and livestock.

First, livestock grazing may create expanses of nutrient- and energy-rich forage just beyond the heavily grazed areas surrounding bomas (or settlements).

A second explanation is that wildlife may be attracted to the highly productive vegetation growing in nutrient-rich soils in abandoned bomas adjacent to inhabited bomas. In other ecosystems, wildlife and livestock preferentially graze on abandoned bomas compared with nearby areas with no settlements.

The third explanation is that wildlife, particularly smaller species highly susceptible to predation, may gather around settlements to avoid predators in the short grass grazed by livestock.

A fourth reason that some species of wildlife congregate near people is that pastoralists may choose to settle in habitat near water and woody resources that is ideal for wildlife. Our data are most consistent with the forage nutrient and predation explanations, but only further research will give us confidence in the answer of how and why this occurs.

Thus, people and livestock can have both positive and negative effects on wildlife. This is the first research to show some of the positive interactions. This suggests that successful conservation needs to have places with no people and places with pastoral people to best conserve all species. But we must be careful: there is a limit to the number of people and livestock a pastoral landscape can support and still be attractive to wildlife. It is crucially important that we better understand how to make protected areas more effective, and when human use is or is not compatible with wildlife outside protected areas.


Copyright © Mara Count 2002. All rights reserved.
Maps, graphics and unpublished reports from this website may be reproduced for non-commercial use provided that such reproduction shall acknowledge the Mara count 2002 with this citation:
"Reid, R.S., Rainy, M., Ogutu, J., Kruska, R.L., McCartney, M., Nyabenge, M., Kimani, K., Kshatriya, M., Worden, J., Ng'ang'a, L., Owuor, J., Kinoti, J., Njuguna, E., Wilson, C.J., and Lamprey, R. (2003). People, Wildlife and Livestock in the Mara Ecosystem: the Mara Count 2002. Report, Mara Count 2002, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya."
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