Downward trends in Ngorongoro Crater ungulate populations 1986-2005: Conservation concerns and the need for ecological research

R. D. Estes, J. L. Atwood, A. B. Estes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations

Abstract

The concentration of over 25,000 ungulates inside Ngorongoro Crater on a 250 km2 patch of the African plains was a major reason for designating the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a World Heritage Site in 1979. As one of East Africa's premier tourist attractions, it is also a major source of foreign exchange for Tanzania. This paper reports the decline of populations of wildebeest, Thomson's and Grant's gazelles since the mid-1980s and the rise to dominance of the buffalo, the results of research carried out from 1996 to 2000 on the Crater ungulates, and discusses natural and anthropogenic factors that may be linked to the population changes. Samples comparing young:adult female ratios in Ngorongoro and Serengeti populations indicated higher survival rates of Crater wildebeest and zebra young, and lower survival rates of Thomson's gazelle. The possibility that predation by lions and spotted hyenas was responsible for reductions in the ungulate populations is belied by corresponding declines in the number of predators. Further research in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is urgently needed to increase understanding of this complex ecosystem and promote effective stewardship, not only of Ngorongoro Crater but of the Serengeti ecosystem, of which the NCA is an integral part, comprising an International Biosphere Reserve. Our recommendations include establishment of a scientific advisory board and a research center that would attract and accommodate Tanzanian and foreign scientists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-120
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume131
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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