Mingling with wild herbivores at certain times of year could help livestock thrive, according to a report this week in the journal Science.
For a long time it has been assumed by farmers who raise their livestock on African grasslands that wild herbivores, such as zebras, antelopes and giraffes, compete with their animals for food. This means that there are extremely negative attitudes towards wildlife in these regions, which worries conservationists keen to preserve the savannah’s natural biodiversity.
To find out whether wildlife really does cause problems for livestock, a team of researchers led by Dr Wilfred Odadi from the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya kept groups of cattle in different experimental plots, monitoring the animals' body weights over time. In some plots the cattle had to share grazing land with wild herbivores whilst in others the wild herbivores were excluded.
During the dry season, the cattle that had to share their food with other herbivores gained the least weight, confirming competition was occurring, but during the wet season the reverse was true.
“The cattle actually gain more weight when they share land with wildlife, and are able to fully recover from the previous competitive season,” said Dr. Odadi, “We think this happens because animals like zebras remove the poor quality components of grass, which leaves a higher quality, more nutritious forage base for cattle.”
This research helps further scientists’ knowledge of the interactions between livestock and wildlife in these regions, which may help them find ways for the two to coexist peacefully.
“We want to ensure the survival of wildlife outside protected areas,” said Dr Odadi. “Our next step is to look at different livestock densities to see if this alters the effects they have on cattle.”