Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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Loita Plains

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The Loita Plains, northeast of world famous Masai Mara National Reserve, are an important part of the larger Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem. They are core breeding and calving grounds and wet-season grazing land for the wildebeest, whose annual migration is the primary tourism feature of the Masai Mara Reserve. The natural landscape here is tall grass savanna with some scattered acacia and dwarf shrubs. The primary human inhabitants of the Loita Plains are the Maasai, who have traditionally been nomadic pastoralists. Responding to the limited, unpredictable and seasonal rains on these grasslands the Masai like the wildebeest, traditionally migrated through the year to where the grasses provided adequate food for their cattle.

Over the past several decades, changes in land use in the Narok District have caused changes in ways of life for both the Masai and the Wildebeest. While most Masai in both Tanzania and in Kenya have taken up cultivation in recent decades, land tenure restrictions in Tanzania have tended to prevent widespread development of mechanized cultivation. In Kenya however, large mechanized wheat farms in the area surrounding Masai Mari expanded roughly 1 000 per cent between 1975 and 1995, most of them on the Loita Plains. This has reduced the available natural grasslands in this important wildebeest habitat. The Masai Mara is perhaps the most famous of Kenya’s tourist attractions and the annual migration of the wildebeest and other large mammals is one of the Mara’s most compelling features. Management of competing land uses for this vast grassland will require a careful balance if its value is to be preserved for future generations.
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