Land Degradation and Our Future
Many of us remember growing up with picture books to help us learn the alphabet. My favorite books were the ones that matched letters with beautiful images of exciting animals. Who could forget the mnemonics “G is for Giraffe,” “L is for Lion,” or “R is for Rhino?” I fell in love with these animals at a young age and it continued into my adulthood, where I had the privilege to go and observe many of these species in the wild.
In college, I wanted to pursue my passion for wildlife and science, so I chose to major in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. There I learned that our planet’s environment is currently undergoing constant changes and, in many cases, threatening the number of healthy habitats for animals to live in. I realized that unfortunately for future generations, some of the animals that I had so much fun learning about when I was a kid might only exist in books or pictures.
For my senior thesis, I was able to do research in Kenya to study how the giraffe was impacted by changes in land quality. Some of these changes are directly caused by the impact humans have on their surroundings, and one of the most problematic transformations has come from the decrease in land quality, also known as land degradation. Kenya has some of the most interesting animals on the planet and, in some cases, its degraded land is directly adjacent to conservation areas; this means that the species living on the conservancies and the grazing population have a significant amount of overlap. One example of this would be where I did my senior thesis: the Mpala Research Center. Located in Laikipia County, Kenya, Mpala boasts the highest diversity of large mammals in the country and it is right next door to land that Kenyans commonly use for cattle grazing.
As Lauren Mechak outlined in her recent blog post, “More Than Grassland,” utilization of grasslands is an extremely important part of human livelihood, however, grazing that is not managed in a sustainable way is one of the main threats to viable habitats for some of the earth’s most famous animals. As the number of degraded land increases, the native fauna are forced to move around more frequently and in much broader ranges to try to find food.
While fascinating, the work I did there was more important to me than simply deepening my understanding of the crucial steps we must take to protect our planet; my research confirmed that giraffe lives are impacted by these negative changes in their wooded grassland home. I found that because degradation had impacted what land was available, giraffe had to change where they chose to eat, raise their babies, and interact with other giraffe. These changes in behavior were different from what had been found in previous research. For example, some of the giraffe had no option but to choose to forage in the lower quality habitat and put their nutritional health at risk so that their offspring would be safe from predation. This was a result of one of the things I did not expect to observe: other species which did not directly feed on the plant life in the area were also negatively affected by this land degradation.
Through interacting with the cattle ranchers, I learned that they were also troubled by the disappearing wooded grasslands. In order to feed their animals, the people using the land faced pressure to adjust where they herded their cattle. This increased the span of the degraded land but minimized the amount of land hospitable to local predators, which were not directly feeding on the flora in the region. Similarly to the disappearance of Gray wolves that Quin Pompi referenced in “Beyond the Trees,” the people working with the grazing cattle felt threatened by the local lion population that hunted there and, therefore, made efforts to ensure that the land was unwelcome to these predators. This then affected the lions’ home ranges, just like the giraffe’s, because as the amount of degraded land grew, the ranchers had to expand the land they used for grazing and, as a result, expand the areas that lions were unwilling to hunt. This chain of circumstances leads to one of the most important things I learned while in Kenya: modern environmental problems require modern solutions, as everyone is affected by negative environmental changes, so we must utilize a solution that has the potential to benefit all.
The disappearance of grasslands, while prevalent in Kenya, is an issue that is present in the United States as well in a different form: conversion to cropland. Although grasslands’ importance is sometimes forgotten, they are homes to some of our most valuable and unique species. Preserving the habitats of species matters, not only for the animals but also for the preservation of many American’s livelihoods and for the environment we all appreciate. ClimeCo is making a difference in a way that is feasible: by developing high-quality offsets that integrate the interests of the agricultural land management world with the goals of the conservation world. Hopefully, through awareness and a strong effort for preservation, our future children will one day get to know, love, and protect these species and their homes too.
To learn more about grasslands preservation, please contact us.
About the Author
Kendall Bedford specializes in managing the data associated with ClimeCo’s extensive network of biogas destruction projects and works closely on the environmental crediting process. Kendall conducted research on giraffe social structure associated with land degradation in Laikipia County, Kenya. Using various statistical, image processing, and modeling programs, she analyzed vast data collected through her own fieldwork for publication in biological journals.