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Migration Of The Wildebeest In The Serengeti Mara Ecosystem

2114 words - 8 pages

The seasonal migration of the Serengeti wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular group events in the animal kingdom. Each year hundreds of thousands of herds travel from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the Massai Mara area in Kenya in search of suitable forage (Mduma, et al,. 1999) The Wildebeest share a complex relationship with their environment. Their behaviour is significantly related to habitat heterogeneity with migration occurring in response to the spatial distribution of food and resources within their environment (Musiega, et al., 2004). However, the migration itself has a profound effect on both the flora and fauna of the ecosystem not only driving the movement of other migratory herbivores such as zebra Eques burchelli and Thompson gazelle Gazelli thompsoni, and thereby the carnivores that prey on them, but also directly altering the dynamics of the plant community by affecting the growth and distribution of vegetation and thus the nutrient cycling of the habitat (Musiega, et al., 2004). The intrinsic role of the wildebeest has established this species as the keystone by which the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is both determined and defined (Sinclair, 1979).The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem covers over 25, 000km2 ranging from northern Tanzania to southern Kenya. The system is closed; limited by both ecological and man-made boundaries which restrict the migration and prevent the emigration and immigration of animals. The area lies within the forested Loita hills, which run from north-east to south where they merge with the Gregory Rift escarpment and the Ngororngoro Crater highlands to form the eastern boundary. The Loita plains delimit the northern boundary and the remaining western territory is fenced off by agricultural land of the Wasukuma, Wakoma and Wakuria tribes (Mduma et al., 1999). The habitat is characterised by open grass plains with acacia woodland in the northern region. As well as physical boundaries the area encompasses 7 different administrative areas: the Serengeti National Park (SNP), Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), Maswa Game Reserve, Ikomo and Ikorongo Game Control Areas, Masai Mara Game Reserve (MMR) and the Loliondo Game Control Area (Thirgood et al., 2003).The Serengeti wildebeest migration has been well documented with records dating back to 1958 (Grzimek & Grzimek, 1960). Since these early studies census have been carried out every few years and reproductive, recruitment and mortality data collected at regular intervals. This long term monitoring allows accurate analysis of varying migration routes and population density in response to changing environmental factors.Despite an ever-increasing bulk of research available the underlying causes of the great migration have not been fully explained (Sinclair, 1995). The exact ranging pattern and calendar date of the migration varies from year to year, and, much to the annoyance of the tourist industry, ecologists are yet...

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