North Mount Kilimanjaro: Introduction
This LUCID research site is situated in an area that lies on the northern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and extends into the surrounding savanna rangelands to include the area of Amboseli National Park - a World Heritage Site. The principal town in the area is Loitokitok, the administrative headquarters of Loitokitok Division of Kajiado District.
For millennia, the greater Amboseli ecosystem has played a central role in subsistence pastoralism and wildlife conservation by providing important biological resources for pastoralists, their livestock and wildlife. However, with the gazetting of Amboseli National Park in 1974, immigration of farmers, and changes in land tenure systems, human use of the ecosystem has intensified. This has created a mixed agro-pastoral landscape with livestock grazing, wildlife conservation, rain-fed and irrigated crop cultivation, and a variety of other land-use patterns including significant growth of market centers.
Grassland vegetation that previously dominated the area is presently changing due to changing human land-use patterns. Our research focuses on changes in landscape patterns and their effects on biodiversity and land degradation over the 1973-2002 period and seeks to interpret the land use changes in relation to a range of local and external driving forces that include: government policies, in-migration, economic opportunities, reorganization of land tenure, and environmental factors.
The study employs a variety of methods for data collection methods and analysis. Household surveys on land use practices were conducted in 1976, 1996, and 2001. These have been supplemented by field seminars, and community workshops to discuss the research findings and their interpretation, and to assess alternative strategies for dealing with issues of concern to the communities.
Remote sensing and GIS techniques have been used to define the dynamics of land cover change and land use change, particularly expansion of agriculture, between 1973 and 2000 in the area between Amboseli and Tsavo national parks. Comparison of land cover in 1988 and 1998 in the Amboseli Park area using ecological indices also measured the impact of agricultural expansion on natural vegetation, and landscape structure and pattern. This analysis indicates increasing fragmentation, increasing patch diversity and decreasing complexity.
Vegetation surveys and soil analyses were conducted along transects that cross the agro-ecological gradient from the mountain's forest edge to swamps in the lower dry land zone. Wildlife counts will provide information on the changing numbers and distribution of elephants and large herbivores.
The results of these studies raise questions about the long-term viability of livelihood systems, crop agriculture and herding, of wildlife populations, and of the water and land resources upon which these land use systems depend.
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