School of
Integrative Biology

SIB News

Study finds potential benefits of wildlife-livestock coexistence in East Africa

A study of 3,588 square kilometers of privately owned land in central Kenya offers evidence that humans and their livestock can, in the right circumstances, share territory with zebras, giraffes, elephants and other wild mammals – to the benefit of all.

The study, reported in the journal Nature Sustainability, focused on Laikipia County in central Kenya.

“Laikipia County hosts 10 percent of Kenya’s wildlife, but none of the country’s national parks or preserves,” said University of Illinois entomology professor Brian Allan, who conducted the study with Bard College professor Felicia Keesing. “Most people depend on livestock for income and almost 70 percent of the land is devoted to large-scale ranching or pastoralism,” Allan said.

As human populations increase, so does the pressure to expand agricultural and pastoral areas into grasslands now dominated by wildlife.

Wildlife tourism is another source of revenue for landowners, however, as the area hosts exotic white and black rhinoceroses, Grevy’s zebras and painted dogs, Keesing said.

“This is leading some to remove traditional barriers between livestock and wildlife because there are benefits to having multiple sources of income,” she said.

There are big potential downsides to allowing livestock and wildlife to share territory, however, the researchers said. Wild cats sometimes prey on domestic animals. Wildlife and livestock may compete for water and grazing resources. They also can share diseases, including tick-borne infections like East Coast fever, Q fever and bovine anaplasmosis.

“There is no greater diversity of tick species anywhere on the earth than in eastern and southern Africa,” Allan said. “And many of the ticks are host generalists, meaning they’ll happily feed on a cow, a gazelle or a zebra – and they’ll also bite humans.”

To determine the ecological and economic effects of raising livestock on territory also used by wildlife, the researchers surveyed tick abundance, vegetation and the dung of large herbivorous mammals on 23 Laikipia County properties in July-August, 2014 and 2015.

“We identified the ticks and sequenced DNA of tick-borne pathogens to identify infectious agents associated with the ticks,” Keesing said. The team also interviewed managers and owners of each property about the type and abundance of livestock on their land and the percent of revenue derived from wildlife tourism and livestock operations.

Read the full article at the Illinois News Bureau

Publication Date: 10/31/2018
Photo credits: L. Brian Stauffer, UI News Bureau
Editor: Diana Yates, Life Sciences