Completed Project: Wildebeest
The starting situation
For anyone who has ever been to the Serengeti plains of Kenya and Tanzania, it is likely impossible to imagine this landscape without vast herds of blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). More southerly African countries, such as Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe also have large populations – for now.
Also known as “common” wildebeest, these antelopes have become much less common in some areas where they were once abundant in southern and eastern Africa. Though the total population of blue wildebeest numbers over one million individuals, wildebeest face an array of threats.
Human populations are growing, especially within the eastern range, which is reducing and fragmenting wildebeest habitat. More humans increase the need for food. Poaching wildebeest for food is becoming more common. Livestock farms are further encroaching on wildebeest habitat and the wild animals and livestock are not always compatible in the eyes of people. Some government programs have deliberately killed wildebeest in some areas to try (unsuccessfully) to eradicate livestock diseases. Fences meant to keep livestock and wildlife apart have cut off wildebeest migration routes, preventing herds from reaching water during dry seasons. These are a few of the increasing dangers wildebeest experience.
SAVE is helping fund research to better understand the population dynamics and habitat requirements for wildebeest living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kutse Game Reserve in Botswana. The research will in part help use understand the reasons why this population has been declining for many years. The results of this research will help us devise a conservation strategy for this population.
SAVE helped over more than 3 years support student Moses Selebatso’s doctoral research on wildebeest in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kutse Game Reserve within Botswana. Moses was trying to determine whether the game reserves can maintain a healthy wildebeest population, as the potential areas outside the reserves have been lost to human development efforts.
Both reserves protect wildlife from threats such as hunting, human settlement, and livestock farming. The area of these reserves is massive, totaling about 56,000 square kilometers (22,000 square miles) equivalent to the size of Denmark or six Yellowstone National Parks in the U.S. The CKGR is the second largest game reserve in the world. Though centered in what is known as the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, the region is of primarily arid grassland intermixed with concentrations of trees and shrubs that supports a great variety and abundance of wildlife. A diversity of antelope species graze and browse the plants while wary of lions, cheetahs, African wild dogs, and other predators.
Studying wildebeest and the health of their habitat can help us better understand the ecosystem conditions for a range of other species that depend on the same ecosystem. Additionally, enacting conservation measures for keystone species such as wildebeest help protect them and other members of the same ecosystem.