Herded cattle and wild grazers partition water but share forage resources during dry years in East African savannas

J. Sitters, I.M.A. Heitkonig, M. Holmgren, G.S.O. Ojwang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Wild herbivore diversity and abundance have declined in African savannas for the past 20 years. Competition for forage resources between wild herbivore and livestock species might contribute to this decline, given habitat and diet overlap under conditions of resource limitation. Development of conservation and management strategies rely on understanding the spatial distribution of resources for livestock and wildlife, especially since the combination of transhumance pastoralism and wildlife conservation is common over Africa. We studied the distribution patterns of wild grazers in relation to cattle abundance, and distance to permanent and seasonal water bodies in semi-arid Kenya between 1983 and 2000. Cattle were abundant far from permanent water bodies during dry and wet years. Wild grazers less dependent on water also concentrated far from water during all years. Only wild grazer species more dependent on water remained concentrated close to water. Hence, wild grazers and cattle show spatial partitioning in the use of permanent and seasonal water bodies, but not in their forage resources. Our study provides no strong evidence of spatial displacement of wild grazers by cattle. We suggest that pastoralist decisions on cattle distribution do not need to negatively affect wildlife distribution and that coexistence can be possible through spatial partitioning. Our results show that pastoralist decisions play an important role in the interactions between livestock and wildlife in African savannas and that herd mobility is a key component in supporting sustainable use of resources for both wildlife and livestock.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)738-750
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • livestock-dominated landscape
  • group ranch subdivision
  • land-use
  • kajiado district
  • large herbivores
  • domestic herbivores
  • kenya maasailand
  • semiarid savanna
  • spatial-analysis
  • mara ecosystem

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