Overgrazing Threatening Elephant Populations

In Kenya for the last few years, pastoral communities have had to endure losses worth thousands of dollars as long famine spells persisted. With scarce water and little pasture having been consumed by the scorching sun in the semi arid areas, pastoral communities witness their livestock starve until they drop dead.

As a result of this painful experience, the pastoralists had to think of viable survival means, which led them to the expansive wildlife ranches and reserves with plenty of grass. The danger from wild animals to the herders and their livestock was far outweighed by the much needed pasture.
The well fed livestock have reproduced and their population in this ranches and reserves increased leading to overgrazing. Though livestock has survived, the overgrazing has occasioned a new threat to the survival of other wild animals.

According to a new study published in an online journal, overgrazing by livestock poses a greater danger to elephants more than poaching. The six year study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that climate change and human encroachment on wildlife space are threatening the already endangered elephant.
Thure Cerling, leader of the study carried out by the University of Utah says, “Fifteen years ago, there was a lot of poaching in the area, and elephants were getting killed, but since then, security has improved considerably, so people are moving in with cattle. Now there’s a suggestion the elephants are finding it harder to compete with the cattle than with the poachers.”
Following a family of three elephants in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs national reserves the team found that for the animals to reproduce, they need to alternate between eating a diet of grass and shrubs.

Two weeks after the rains begin, an elephant, the study says, usually switches to a grass diet to bulk up for pregnancy and birth. But the team observed that when seasons changed and there was prolonged drought or livestock had fed on the early grass, the elephants did not conceive.

The study also showed an intricate interplay in the timing of the rainy season, the growth of grass and when the elephants breed and give birth.
Five weeks after the rains start, when the proportion of grass in the elephants’ diet reaches maximum levels, females in the 800-member Samburu-Buffalo Springs elephant population are most likely to conceive.

The elephants give birth 22 months after conception, with the peak of births just in time for another rainy season to provide water and grass for offspring.
According to Cerling, the study leader “It is clear that the grass provides nutrients that the elephants presumably need for successful reproduction,”


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