Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: AFRICA: Page 2

     The Serengeti, the great East African savannah, is considered the gem of the African continent. White-bearded Wildebeests (Connochaetes taurinus), the keystone animals of the Serengeti, have increased over the past few decades to some 1.5 million, recovering from heavy hunting and habitat modification (Nowak 1999).  They are protected by large reserves and national parks in Tanzania and Kenya during the majority of their giant migratory path that takes them in a large circle, returning to the same grasslands each year to have their young.  This spectacle was in great danger of disappearing in the mid-20th century when there were plans to carve up the region for private ranches and farms.  Conservationist Bernhard Grzimek and others wrote of the  international treasure that the Serengeti represented and the importance of preventing its loss in a moving book, Serengeti Shall Not Die.  Years of work resulted in the protection of much of this grassland.  The conditions that prevailed permitting such a disaster to occur were described in the foreword to the book: "One can protest that there is a moral duty to preserve this last of the great natural congregations of wild animals left in existence...But none of this seems to make any difference. The African authorities, both black and white, are decided that the interests of human beings are paramount, and that wherever human beings are in conflict with wild life it is the wild life that must go" (Grzimek and Grzimek 1961).  These words proved prophetic for the wildlife of southern Africa described below.  Today, it is inconceivable that the Serengeti might be destroyed intentionally, having become a major attraction for scientists and tourists from around the world, but it is being whittled away none the less.
     Growing human populations in Kenya and Tanzania have usurped much of the land outside reserves for farmland, and Europeans have long owned large cattle ranches.  Animals straying outside the parks are being killed as pests or for bushmeat markets.  These savannahs are being fragmented by development up to the very edges of reserves.  Wildlife populations have become isolated in protected areas. 
      Elephants have ancestral migratory routes for food and to obtain minerals from salt licks and caves.  The parks often lack sufficient forage for them, and yet when they leave for food, they trample the crops of local farmers or feed in their fields.  Many are killed for this, although Kenyan wildlife authorities have tried to prevent such deaths in the late 1990s by protecting farms and relocating elephant families to areas where they are absent as a result of the almost disastrous killing for ivory during the 1970s and 1980s.  In spite of this, large animals, including Lions and other predators, are in steep decline in the Serengeti.   Just since 1977, an estimated 412,000 large herd animals have disappeared from Kenya's savannahs, some species declining by more than 50 percent (McKinley 1998).  National parks encompass only portions of habitats and migratory paths of many species  (McKinley 1998).  The trend accelerates as the overall population of Kenya is growing at a fast rate, with families having an average of six children.  From 5 million in 1946, Kenya's people have increased to more than 28 million today.

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