Mobility and livestock mortality in communally used pastoral areas: The impact of the 2005-2006 drought on livestock mortality in Maasailand

There is consensus that pastoral mobility is beneficial for both pastoralists and the environment. However, rapid change arising from multiple factors, including landscape fragmentation, sedentarization, and demographic drivers might affect the effectiveness of this pastoral coping strategy in times of drought. We investigate livestock mortality rates following the 2005 drought in four areas in Maasailand: the Maasai Mara, the Kitengela plains, the Amboseli, and the Simanjiro plains. The main aim was to assess the mortality of resident livestock in relation to incoming livestock during the drought. Contrary to our expectations, livestock mortality rates were significantly higher (43%) in Kitengela, which experienced above-average rainfall, compared to the other three areas which had below-average rainfall yet experienced mortality rates between 14% and 30%. Two processes might explain this surprisingly high mortality rate. Firstly, the immigration of large numbers of livestock from drought-stricken areas into the highly fragmented Kitengela area increased stocking density, which worsened the shortage of forage and water. Secondly, the more market-oriented but less drought-resistant livestock breeds in Kitengela form another explanation for the increased mortality. These observations suggest that pastoral mobility may lead to greater sensitivity to drought especially in fragmented areas where more market-oriented but less drought-resistant livestock breeds are introduced. We argue that in such areas, there is a crucial need to adopt practices that simultaneously minimize land fragmentation and enhance pastoral mobility and access to information on improved livestock breeds and markets.