A vegetation survey of Masai Mara game reserve, Narok District, Kenya
Taiti, Simon Wambugu
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The work presented here is a study of the vegetation of Masai Mara Game Reserve, in the Narok District of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya. The study was carried out between May~ 1971 and August,1972, in the Research Division of the Kenya. Game Department, and under the Botany and Zoology Departments of the University of Nairobi, in the programme of Biology of Conservation". The work was an effort towards the fulfillment of the aims of wildlife management set by the Kenya National Development Plan, 1970 - 1974, (16.51), and should be the beginning of a management - oriented research programme to monitor a dynamic vegetation~ which is now the habitat of a large population of small and large mammal in the wild, in the Mara-Loita ecosystem. Hitherto the rangeland has been managed with fire and in a traditional conception of grazing and burning, namely that burning before the rains fall instigates an abundance of palatable forage. It appeared red that burning has changed the vegetation patterns ,and has induced diverse successional phases. Domestic grazing practices too have caused imminent overgrazing in some areas where the Masai have isolated the boundary. The Masai themselves have chopped off much of the bushland communities for construction of bomas and Manyattas during their movements.The effects of these practical activities of man have been superimposed on a landscape with a complex geologic and topographic frame and diversity which existed because of tectonic, volcanic and pluvial effects in the tertiary - quarternary and recent periods of geological history.The primary need for the present aims of management and development is a concise, descriptive statement of the situation prior 'to manipulation of the wildlife resource. But the manipulation has occurred, by way of habitat management with fire, land planning for more intensive "managements of the areas of Narok District outside the Game Reserve, and urban-type installations of tourist facilitation in the Game Reserve, all of which may have significant consequences on the condition of the ecosystem. " The present study was aimed at providing such a statement on the vegetation in particular, as a basis of further research work, and management. The methods and scope of the work were chosen to render the work feasible in the time limits of an M.Sc. course project. From the practical experience gained in the course ,of the study it is included generally that the key to the comprehension pf the vegetation of the Masai Mara Game Reserve, as indeed ',Ofany' oth~r area, depends strongly o being able to know what and ~here to l~ok for, in a bewildering matrix of a rich flora, and incoherent, anonymous Associations. The primary of the present work is to report on what exists by way of species, where and how to look for the entities or communities of the vegetation, and to point out at the factors which appear to be the most important influences of the vegetation in the Masai Mara Game Reserve from the point of view of habitat management. The vegetation was surveyed and mapped on its physiognomy from the ground, by use of a plane-table Aerial photographs were then used to map more precisely some of the community types, and to examine the communities for changes in density and spatial extents in the 20 (approximate) years between 1948 and 1967. An area computer, a stereoscope and a radial-line plotter were used for this purpose. The communities were described by means of thoroughly inclusive species lists an d statistics (including Relative Frequency and Relative Density) on composition and structure determined by the point centred- quarter method of vegetation analysis Quadrats, transects and charts were used to supplement descriptions. The data are tabulated under their respective communities ,in chapter VII. Profile diagrams were used to describe the various catenas recognized, in the Mara Game Reserve. The data collected on climate, fire and damage of trees by elephants are presented. The soils under the various communities were sampled and analysed both mechanically and chemically_ Pits were dug and soil profiles described. Plant material collected during the flora survey were compiled into a local herbarium, holding ~ 500 species of mainly Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons from the study area, to help future work in the area. All together, fourteen plant community-types were recognized, named, mapped planimetrically and described quantitatively_ It is hoped that these descriptions will be found of practical use, by both future research workers and the management of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The sequence of presentation leads from the landscape to the details of the communities, and finally to the factors - soil, fire and animals, and concludes with recommendations in respect to the latter factors. Obligations are dully acknowledged at the end.