Putting Cows with Zebras – Can Integrating Livestock with Wildlife Work?

With our recent move into our new offices within the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology (CEAT) we are particularly interested in exploring how our drone tracking technology originally developed for use with wildlife and invasive species can also be applied in different contexts, such as within the livestock industry.

We believe there is a growing need to understand and better manage stock movements as the human population continues to rapidly expand and the demand for land devoted to the production of agriculture and livestock increases. However, is it possible to strike a happy medium between the needs of growing livestock demands and maintaining a healthy and sustainable wildlife populations?

The compatibility between livestock production and wildlife conservation often appears contentious. On one hand, integrating livestock with wildlife could lead to competition for resources and disease-sharing. However, more recent research suggests that both sides can not only coexist, but provide each other with mutual benefits.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a prime example. Located in the Laikipia County of Kenya, the conservancy is not only a sanctuary for critically endangered animals, but one of the only places to have integrated their livestock to live alongside the native wildlife.

Everyday, small herds of Boran cows (an East African breed) are taken out by herders to different parts of the conservancy to graze, before being returned to predator-proof enclosures for the night. In doing so, the cattle help to maintain the health of the grasslands by consuming the grass before it becomes rank, thereby promoting better revegetation.

The environmental benefit of this practice was seen in a 2018 study by Keesing and colleagues. By comparing integrated land with single-purpose (eg. livestock or wildlife only) properties in Laikipia County, they noted that the quality of forage was highest on land where livestock had been integrated with wildlife.

While this integrated model might have its benefits, some have voiced concerns regarding the spread of disease between species. The main reason is because of ticks – a major problem in East Africa as they are capable of spreading a multitude of diseases between both animals and humans. To prevent this, a 2017 study by Allan and colleagues noted that Ol Pejeta regularly sprays their cattle with acaricides, a pesticide which kills host-seeking ticks. By turning the cattle into ‘ecological traps,’ tick numbers on the conservancy have significantly reduced. Similarly, Keesing and colleagues also reported that tick abundance was 75 percent lower on integrated properties than those which only hosted wildlife. This finding is particularly important for not only decreasing tick populations, but reducing the chances of tick-borne diseases being spread.

Economically, Ol Pejeta is one of few conservancies that are financially sustainable. This is because they are able to draw their revenue from both tourism and agriculture. While their wildlife sanctuary is popular with tourists, their successful livestock programme enables them to run an on-site abattoir where they slaughter and sell beef to many high-end butcheries and restaurants around Nairobi.  Compared to single-purpose properties examined in Keesing and colleagues’ study, they found that properties that derived funding from more than one source were more financially stable.

Overall, Ol Pejeta’s integrative model is a testament to how we can both satisfy our agricultural needs and still have thriving wildlife populations. More importantly, Ol Pejeta has shown how such a model can thrive in even the most harsh, yet most vulnerable places in the world.

 

Sources:

Allan, B., Tallis, H., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Huckett, S., Kowal, V., & Musengezi, J. et al. (2017). Can integrating wildlife and livestock enhance ecosystem services in central Kenya?. Frontiers In Ecology And The Environment15(6), 328-335. doi: 10.1002/fee.1501

Keesing, F., Ostfeld, R., Okanga, S., Huckett, S., Bayles, B., & Chaplin-Kramer, R. et al. (2018). Consequences of integrating livestock and wildlife in an African savanna. Nature Sustainability1(10), 566-573. doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0149-2

Nason, J. (2018). Lions and livestock: how cattle are revolutionising wildlife conservation in Kenya – Beef Central. Retrieved from https://www.beefcentral.com/production/livestock-and-lions-how-cattle-are-revolutionising-wildlife-conservation-in-kenya/

Study finds potential benefits of wildlife-livestock coexistence in East Africa. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-10/uoia-sfp101118.php

Images sourced from Pexels: Cow (Pixabay); Zebra (Edgar Chomba)

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