Today we celebrate the 6th Mara Day, a symbolic day to highlight the importance of Mara ecosystem, the value of our rivers (Mara River as the lifeblood of the basin) and wildlife, increase public awareness, and encourage the improved stewardship of our critical natural resources. This year’s celebrations come at a critical time when the scale of the global water challenge is daunting, and two thirds of the world’s population lives in regions of severe water scarcity.
Today nearly 800 million people from across the globe live without access to safe water and about 2.5bn people without access to basic sanitation. Kenya is no exception. One of the critical rivers in Kenya facing numerous challenges is the Mara River, despite its immense importance in the region.
The Mara River is one of five priority areas under the HSBC Water Programme where WWF is working to secure freshwater systems. It is the only reliable source of surface water in the Mara ecosystem, supports the livelihoods of around 1.2 million people in Kenya and Tanzania, supports economic activities in both countries, and sustains the world famous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that is known for its rich wildlife resources. The consequences of the Mara River drying are unthinkable.
Studies have shown that if the river flow falls below 1 cubic meter per second, wildlife numbers in the ecosystem would crash irreversibly. We have had scares of the Mara River drying; the worst I remember was in February-March 2009 when the river was reduced to a trickle. During the past few decades the seasonal water variations in the Mara have changed significantly; there are now higher peaks and lower plateaus in the river flow. Catchment degradation and over abstraction (especially during the dry season) are the main culprits. Decreasing vegetation cover is causing a faster run-off of rainwater. The river is also being clogged with sediment because of increased soil erosion. We have recorded sediment concentrations in the river three times the tolerable amounts. In the steep agricultural areas upstream, soil erosion levels have been recorded as high as 25 tonnes per hectare per year in erosion hotspots. Pollution from towns, trading centers, tourist facilities, and artisanal gold miners along its course is also affecting the quality of the river.
Reclaiming our rivers calls for a multi-disciplinary approach among stakeholders and innovative thinking. WWF is working with water users, local communities, water managers and decision makers to better manage the Mara River.
Through facilitating integrated water resources management (IWRM) in the basin, we work to achieve have a perennially flowing river, with sufficient, good quality water that ensures sustainable economic development and conservation of the natural resources in the unique and important Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
Efforts to restore Mara River are on course. Key to this has been establishing and sustaining local water resources management platforms; most notably the Water Resources Users’ Associations (WRUAs), and Community Forest Associations (CFAs). These institutions have been critical in ensuring community participation in natural resources management through participatory water and forest resources management respectively. They are increasingly taking up their important roles and mandates, ensuring that there is a win-win situation for the relevant government agencies and the communities where responsibilities and benefits in natural resources management are shared.
In order to ensure sustainability of catchment restoration initiatives, we’ve launched a scheme to link upstream farmers with private sector partners who depend on the Mara River for their operations. This scheme is a flexible incentive based mechanism where a user or beneficiary of an ecosystem service provides incentives to individuals or communities whose management decisions and practices influence the provision of ecosystem services; in this case water.
To tackle the pollution problem, we are also working with hotels and lodges in the Mara, as well as towns and trading centers to reduce pollution in the Mara River through wastewater management, with the aim of ensuring that effluent that is discharged into the River meets acceptable standards. We are also reaching out to artisanal gold miners in Tanzania to adopt appropriate technologies that reduce mercury pollution.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals have an overarching aim to end poverty by 2030, with Goal 6 promising adequate, equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030. These ambitious goals mean that a business as usual approach won’t work, requiring governments, NGOs and the private sector to go beyond traditional ways of working to achieve change. The improvements that have taken root in the Mara with the support of the HSBC Water Programme over the last five years are a testament to what can be accomplished when NGOs, businesses and communities work together for transformational change.
Kevin Gichangi, Programme Coordinator, WWF – Mara River Basin
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is a mosaic of breathtaking ambience and home to some of world’s most iconic species. This beautiful landscape is also home to thousands of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists communities who have inhabited the area for years, below are ten interesting fact about the basin:
Mara River is the only reliable source of surface water in the Mara ecosystem, supporting the livelihoods of around 1.2 million people in Kenya and Tanzania, supports economic activities in both countries, and sustains the world famous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that is known for its rich wildlife resources. Studies have shown that if the Mara River flow falls below 1 cubic meter per second, wildlife numbers in the ecosystem would crash irreversibly. The consequences of the Mara River drying are unthinkable. To avert the vice WWF is working with communities in the rivers’ upper catchment to adopt better land management to reduce siltation.
Maasai Mara Game Reserve is a World Heritage Site and therefore of global conservation significance. It is also Kenya’s most visited protected area thus an important economic hub.
Rhinos in the Mara are one of the key species globally and nationally.
Rhinos in the Mara are the only large population of rhinos in Kenya still considered ‘’pure’’ from a genetic point of view - no introductions
One of the 3 rhino population in Kenya living in a free range situation – not in fenced sanctuaries are found in the Mara.
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem harbours one of the most highly diverse large herbivore assemblages found anywhere in the world (92 species of mammals). Some rare species, such as the aardwolf, golden cat, and striped hyena are found in this area. More than 452 species of birds have been recorded in Mara-Serengeti ecosystem including fifty-three species of birds of prey (Williams 1967).
The Maasai Mara National Reserve has the highest concentration of wildlife in Kenya and is a priority habitat for the conservation of antelopes. The Mara is also one of Africa’s major research center for the spotted hyena because of its high large concentration of this species.
Maasai Mara is acclaimed as World Heritage Site, because of the extraordinary annual mass migration of the wildebeest, zebras and Thomson gazelles migrating westward from the Ndutu Plain of Tanzania in search of food and the region’s most fragile resource, water.
Maasai Mara has different habitats ranging from riverine forest, swamps, open rolling grassland, Acacia woodland, non-deciduous thickets, boulder-strewn escarpments, and Acacia, Croton and Tarchonanthus scrub.
In low-visibility tropical forests, elephant abundance estimates typically use elephant dung density as a proxy for elephant density. Dung density is converted to elephant abundance using estimates of the rates of elephant defecation and dung decay and the surface area of the surveyed area. WWF facilitated the first ever-comprehensive census and survey of African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana africana) in the Mau Forest Complex in October 2016.
Kenya is considered one of the top five bird-watching destinations in the world and well over a thousand species of our feathered friends call the country home. The Mara ecosystem has the highest ostrich population of Africa and the unique grey crowned crane is found here. (WWF-UK website)
The Mara-Serengeti landscape has the highest concentration of large predators in the world, including the iconic African lion. Across Africa, lion populations are estimated to have halved over the last 20 years and an estimated 600 lions remain in the Mara ecosystem. WWF-UK website)
In Kenya, it is estimated that 70% of the country’s wildlife lives on rangelands outside national parks and reserves, making local communities a crucial stakeholder in wildlife conservation. The Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) covers 1,510-km2 centre of the Greater Maasai Mara Ecosystem (GME), excluding approximately 4500 km2, the balance of which is private land.
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is a mosaic of breathtaking ambience and home to some of world’s most iconic species. This beautiful landscape is also home to thousands of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists communities who have inhabited the area for years, David Leto, Elephant Project Assistant at WWF Kenya is one of its inhabitants.
Albeit losing his father at a tender age of ten to human-elephant conflict, Leto has over the years dedicated most part of his time advocating for harmonious eco-existence between people and wildlife in the Mara.
Deaths, tragic injuries, and loss of properties are some of the baffling and biting realities communities neighbouring wildlife ranges have had to put up with. In these sections of the Mara, elephants are considered a problematic animal and the fact that an estimated 60% of the elephants here are predominantly residing outside protected areas aggravate the situation.
This is the strategic gap, that Leto together with his colleagues at WWF-Kenya and like minded conservation organisation in the Mara have vowed to mitigate through rigorous community sensitisation programme, adoption of ingenious conservation solutions and emboldening community steered initiatives.
“I was only ten years old when my dad succumbed to a brutal attack from an elephant. After dads’ death, future looked bleak. I was completely devastated and angered by the elephants. I even swore to myself that someday I shall advocate for massive eradication of elephants from planet earth”, Leto recounts.
Hatred soon turned to pleasant adoration for the elephants; Leto attributes this to his mother, whom he says encouraged him to study elephant conservation in order to prevent human elephant conflict. Today, Leto is acclaimed for his role in elephant conservation among his community.
His roles in conservation involves mitigating human elephant conflicts and working with communities to increase elephant ranges through community conservancies model. Whereas there is no exclusive method to completely alleviate Human Elephant Conflict, myriad of mitigation measures adopted with communities at the centre of all conservation efforts in the Mara has seen a 30% reduction of the reported cases for the past one-year.
Working with the elephants is not an easy task
In a small village called Kilae, nestling in the Transmara conservation an area prone for human elephant conflicts we met Domic Nabaala, agro-pastoralist who candidly expresses his liking and frustration with the elephants. “Elephant are beautiful creatures, but unfriendly too when they feel threatened. Over the years this is exactly what humans have done, made elephants feel threatened, especially around my home area where what used to be elephant corridor to Nyakweri Forest baptised ‘elephant maternity’ is now completely developed,” he said.
With corridors cut off, elephants are forced to find other routes thus increasing their contact with humans and properties leading to losses and fatality. One of the affected farms is Dominic s’ four acre. To avert human elephant conflict Domic is embracing simple technology. “Since i adopted the galvanised steel wire and tins idea in my, destruction from the elephants have drastically reduced. From near zero yield few years ago today my last yield as of June was 15 sack per acre,” he narrates with a smile.
Today through the support of WWF Dominic is a certified ranger with Kenya Wildlife Services having been trained at law enforcement academy and now a community ranger who has vowed to protect people and elephants.
Metallic tin and galvanized steel wire is a simple technology that Leto and other conservationists are encouraging communities to adopt to deter elephants from destroying their farms. A 2.00 mm galvanized steel wire is tied on poles which are 10-meters apart and tins hang on them to emit annoying noise to scare away the elephants. The net harvest from the pilot farms was 17 sacks compared to 10 sacks per acre the previous season before the use of the deterrent.
In addition, Leto leads in training members of the communities to use deterrent equipments such as firecrackers, high intensity torches, chili bombs, and chili guns to scare away elephants to avert the stubborn human-elephant conflict.
Through community sensitisation, education and awareness meetings to teach communities on how to live harmoniously with wildlife, three community conservancies - Siana, Oloisukut and Nyakweri have been established. These are among the 14 community conservancies in the Mara-Serengeti landscape that are haven for wildlife and a source of livelihood for the communities owning the land through tourism.
Through embracing technology, collaring of elephants in the Mara has also significantly reduced human wildlife conflict. The information obtained from elephant tracking is now used as an early warning system to make informed interventions.
“Our dream is to see a Mara Landscape free of human-wildlife conflict, teeming with wildlife, where human and wildlife will thrive together forever. Until this dream is achieved, we have an unfinished business and the work will go on” Leto says in his concluding remarks.