Understanding the number of livestock and wildlife that a given track of land can support is important.  It  forms the basis of  the stocking rate which determines the number of animals grazing on a given amount of land for a specified time, thus helping to create a balance between long-term forage supply and forage consumption for both livestock and wildlife. The Maasai Mara rangelands are in the Mara Basin are no exception. This landscape makes for a great example of determining the carrying capacity of conservancies' in the surroundings'. It is on this backdrop that the The Univeristy of Twente ( ITC) , one of the implementing partners under the MaMaSe programme organized an assessment workshop on the Carrying Capacity (CC) of the Maasai Mara rangelands. It was  hosted at the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) headquarters in Narok, Kenya. The workshop was attended by 11 managers from conservancies in the area. The objectives of the workshop were to:

·         Provide hands-on experience with the carrying capacity model that ITC has been developing and obtain feedback.

·         Showcase  a new high resolution vegetation map, obtained from a combination of satellite observation and field observation for feedback.

·         Training on a web application called Mara Range-land Information System (MARIS).

How does one determine the Carrying Capacity?

The carrying capacity model subtracts demand for biomass by livestock and wildlife (i.e. consumption) from production of biomass over a period of time. It does so in high resolution of 23x23 meter pixels.  Where more vegetation is consumed than produced, respecting a sustainable amount of vegetation to be left behind for regeneration, carrying capacity is exceeded. Although the analysis has been completed using geographic information system by means of a scripting language, the production and consumption part were presented with the new workflow modeler in ILWIS 4. The big advantage of ILWIS 4 is that rather than scripts, the model is developed in a graphical user interface that steps through the various operations which are more user friendly. 

Conservancy managers working with production model in ILWIS4 workflow.

Conservancy managers working with production model in ILWIS 4workflow.

The vegetation map is the result of satellite-based temporal classification of homogenous vegetation areas and subsequent sampling in about 300 locations assessing vegetation cover, biomass and floristic composition of grasses so to know the quality of the grasslands (fig. 2). Then again a number of factors such as the terrain were considered to allocate the floristic compositions to the landscape in a high resolution. This resulting map is the first of its kind and can serve the area for the next 10 years. The next steps are to document the process of how it was made, add more common names of rangeland grasses, and polish minor errors in the mapping. The training provided hands-on experience on the on the Carrying capacity model that ITC  has developed for the Mara Basin under the MaMase Programme.  

To best understand how to manage the rangelands, knowing the type of vegetation in the given area is key. The customized model for the Mara basin is able to provide information on;

·         Homogenous vegetation areas and subsequent sampling in about 300 locations assessing vegetation cover,

·         Biomass and floristic composition of grasses so to know the quality of the grasslands.

Drought over time at a location in Naboisho conservancy late 2016, early 2017.

Drought over time at a location in Naboisho conservancy late 2016, early 2017.

This workshop provide a platform for knowledge sharing and an avenue for ITC to fine tune the application further. It was noted that ;

·    Although the ITC development team had thought that conservancy managers would work with the web application interface, they actually liked to work with the ILWIS 4 workflows to understand and control the carrying capacity assessment themselves. The MARIS application will thus be more oriented to conservancy members.

·    Users of the application( Conservancy managers) prefer management blocks inside the conservancies, the current biomass consumption is driven by a species distribution model applied to the annual wet or dry season animal aerial surveys done by the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS).

·    Although consistent over the years, conservancies would like to introduce different animal numbers scenarios. Hence a scenario management component would be necessary.

Findings  from this assessment will help the ITC research and development team to continue exploring ways of  operationalizing  the various systems in the Maasai Mara rangelands and beyond, since these technologies are highly scalable once customized.