Saturday, June 8, 2013

Balance Between Recreation Service and Biodiversity? Case study of Masai Mara National Reserve

  Mini Vans that are used to carry tourists around the reserve along with trucks
Trucks with open rooftops containing standing tourists are driven into Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR), Kenya. Since the 1990s this phenomenon peaks annually during the June through October months. International tourists come from every country to observe the ungulate migration during the dry season. The Kenyan government established the MMNR in the 1960s for tourism attraction and economic benefits, they also cooperated with many conservation organizations, hotels, advertisements and managements. Masai Mara National Reserve is segregated into 3 zones (Fig. 1): reserve, buffer zone, and grazed zone (Virani et al., 2011). Animals inside the reserve area are protected by laws against poaching and are included in conservation plans. The buffer zone is gathered with hotels, recreation, cultural commoditization and Maasai villages. The grazed zone recently has been located as a large cultivation and agriculture land. MMNR is the major tourism attraction in Kenya; in addition, there are hotels and luxury cabins inside the reserve.
Fig 1. Map showing three zones of land use near the Masai Mara National Reserve (Virani et al., 2011).
Slogans, such as, “Sleeping With the Wild” have been used in advertisements to attract tourists that want to experience nature and wilderness. Can recreation service and biological biodiversity (which are both ecosystem services) be balanced? Critics such as biologists and some conservation organizations have been conducting long studies of the ecosystem and ecology in MMNR. Studies have shown that the animal populations have been in decline because of anthropogenic activities. Areas near the reserve have undergone land use changes by human activities such as agriculture, hotels, camps and markets. Studies have shown that animal populations within the reserve and adjoining the reserve have been declining, especially vultures and other scavenging raptors have declined most recently (Ogutu et al., 2011; Virani et al., 2011).
             Large animal populations have been declining within the MMNR and areas nearby the reserve (Ogutu et al., 2011; Honey, 2009). In 1977 to 2009, many wildlife populations had been reduced and some of them even reduced to a third of their previous population (Fig 2 and 3) both in the reserve and ranches nearby (Ogutu et al., 2011). 
      Fig 2 and 3. Trend of temporal species population from 1977-2009 within (blue) and outside of (green) Masai Mara National Reserve. The shaded and larger areas are the point wise 95% confidence limits (Ogutu et al., 2011). 
Many facilities have to be built before establishing a reserve for a safari; the government has to create roads that connect the highway to the reserve area and roads from gates to campsites and hotels inside the reserve. Roads are major causes of fragmentation of animals’ habitats. Building roads also increases mortality rates due to collision with traffic.
Main hotel cabins in the reserve
The hotels that are built inside the reserve area require daily support from outside. Large amounts of waste are created everyday from the hotels and camps inside the reserve. Trucks and vans that carry fresh food, souvenirs, employees and tourists that are driven on a daily basis also could have major impact on animal lives. Millspaugh et al. shows that elephants are suffering from high stress levels from loud noises (car engines) and contact with humans. It indicates that elephants will have biological effects if they are continuously stressed. Their immune systems will decline and will also exhibit dangerous behavior towards humans. The typical safari style in MMNR is using mini vans to carry tourists around the protected areas and browse for animal behaviors. Research has shown that 90% of mini van drivers break the rule of limited distance viewing for cheetahs and lions (Honey, 2009). Moreover, there are reports showing that drivers have been illegally driving through grass zones and vegetation areas. It destroys the grass and food for grazers inside the reserve. Furthermore, illegal poaching has been indicated in several studies, especially, at the edge of reserve area (Virani et al, 2011; Ogutu et al., 2011; Honey, 2009). The fragmentation of wildlife habitat increases the opportunity of illegal poaching around the protected area but also at the edge of the reserve.
Old world African vultures
Virani et al. shows the reserve is losing important keystone species, such as, vultures and other scavenging raptors due to wheat cultivation, food shortage, electrocution on and collision with power lines, and the conflict between livestock ranchers and top predators. Fig 4 shows that vulture populations decline throughout different land uses and time periods.
Fig 4. The graph shows vulture population density within three different zones (Virani et al., 2011).
Power lines built to support human activities and hotel services inside the reserve cause nest and habitat loss for vultures and raptors. Vultures and raptors are declining throughout the world, especially Africa. Studies indicate poisonous events in the livestock community have a major impact on vultures and raptors mortality within the reserve and also the areas nearby. The livestock communities, in order to prevent wild predators from foraging livestock near the reserve have used Furadan, a carbamate-based pesticide, to poison carcasses and persecution for body parts (Virani et al., 2011). The poisoning event increased mortality rates of predators such as lions, hyenas and vultures.  Vultures and scavenging raptor populations are affected because they eat carcasses and when carcasses are poisoned they die from poisoning too. Vulture populations that are in rapid decline will bring a severe impact on the ecosystem (MMNR), which is already destabilized because of human disturbance. Vultures are a very important species because they are a “cleaner” and act as a decomposer in the ecosystem because of their unique low pH level in their stomach (Ogada et al., 2011; Virani and Jais, 2010). They keep the nutrients recycled in the ecology and they dispose large carcasses much faster compared with other scavenging mammals or birds. In Africa, vultures even can lead scavenging species to find carcasses (Ogada et al., 2011; Virani and Jais, 2010). Furthermore, they prevent carcass diseases from transmitting to other species because of their rapid rate of decomposition and they also are not natural disease reservoirs. If vultures were to go extinct, scavenging species, most of which are disease reservoirs, would have to spend more time on each carcass. In addition, it gives other scavengers a higher chance to get a virus or disease from carcasses and carry on to other species in the ecosystem (Ogada et al., 2011; Virani and Jais, 2010). Increasing disease transmission might kill vulnerable species that have low genetic diversity, small population size and endemic species.

It is hard to manage an “eco-tourism” reserve because of complicated issues between wildlife protection and economic benefits. Tourism will always have an impact on the wildlife because of human activities such as, vehicles, camps, hotels and habitat fragmentation. Moreover, several studies have been conducted to prove that a trend of population decline will continuously happen within and near the MMNR and a major factor is due to human activities. The most urgent conservation plan should be protecting African vultures now because of rapid population decline and they are an important keystone species in the ecosystem. The case study in Masai Mara National Reserve is used to prove that a lack of balance between recreation service and biodiversity can have a prolonged impact on the ecosystem and local communities.
Peer-reviewed articles---
Honey, Martha. “Community Conservation and Early Ecotourism: Experiments in Kenya.” Environment 51.1 (2009): 46-57. Print.
Millspaugh, Joshua J., Tarryne Burke, Gus Van Dyk, Rob Slotow, Brian E. Washburn, and Rami J. Woods. “ Stress Response of Working African Elephants to Transportation and Safari Adventures.” Journal of Wildlife Management 71.4 (2007): 1257-1260. Print.
Ogada, Darcy L., Felicia Keesing, and Munir Z. Virani. “Dropping dead: causes and consequences of vulture population declines worldwide.” The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 1249.1 (2012): 57-71. Print.
Ogutu, J.O., N. Owen-Smith, H.P. Piepho, and M.Y. Said. “Continuing wildlife population declines and range contraction in the Mara region of Kenya during 1977-2009.” Journal of Zoology 285.2 (2011): 99-109. Print.
Virani, Munir Z., Corinne Kendall, Peter Njoroge, and Simon Thomsett. “Major declines in the abundance of vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya.” Biological Conservation 144.2 (2011): 746-752. Print.