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Invasive species pose threat to wildlife

THE Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is grappling with a threat of invasive species, which pose a threat to the survival of wildlife in the area.

The alien species, numbering 245, are also said to affect the growth of plants mostly preferred by herbivores in the area revered for most diverse migration of grazing mammals on earth.

“Some of the plants aren’t giving room for other species to grow, it is thus a big problem that requires an urgent solution, ”Ms Nancy Githaiga, a biodiversity expert, said during an East African Community (EAC) virtual exchange conference for journalists reporting on illegal wildlife trade (IWT).

Ms Githaiga, who is also Head of Policy Research and Innovation for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Kenya) said some of the alien species forced wildebeests and zebras to ward off from their pasture and due to lack of grass to feed on.

“Wildebeests are known to feed on nutritious grass whose growth has been suppressed by the alien species,” she observed.

A recent study has established that a number of invasive alien plant species initially introduced as ornamental plants at tourist facilities are spreading rapidly throughout the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, posing a major threat to wildlife, including the annual wildebeest and zebra migration as well as a range of other plant and animal species.

Scientists from the Centre for Invasion Biology at the University of Stellenbosch and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), writing in the journal Koedoe, identified a number of invasive alien plant species in the Masai-Mara National Reserve, many of which have been intentionally introduced to tourist facilities.

Native grass and plant species that are essential food for grazing mammals are displaced by these invaders, threatening one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the natural world, the Great Migration.

Scientists predict that the rapid spread of these alien species will convert much of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem into a “green desert”, significantly reducing wildlife numbers and impacting on tourism and the country’s economy.

Citing an example of the water hyacinth on Lake Victoria, the biodiversity expert was of the view that such alien species were deliberately brought to the region from other countries.

Water hyacinth has become a major invasive plant species in the Lake Victoria and while it is native to the continent of South America, human activity is responsible for introducing it to the Lake Victoria, where it is claimed to have negatively affected the ecosystem.

The virtual exchange, conducted through Webinar, hinged on the objectives of the EAC Strategy to combat poaching, illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products.

It is a Connect - a USAID funded project, which aims at strengthening the conservation and management of natural resources shared by East African countries, including wildlife and landscapes popularly referred to as trans-boundary natural resources.

It is implemented by a consortium of regional organisations led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) through the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (Esaro) in partnership with Traffic - the wildlife trade monitoring network and WWF.

Author: EDWARD QORRO in Arusha

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