Large mammalian carnivores represent one of Kenya’s most important natural resources. These animals attract huge numbers of tourists to the Maasai Mara National Reserve and serve as an effective flagship species important for the protection of biodiversity within the Reserve.They also function to regulate ecosystem processes such as interspecific competition and predator-prey interactions.
The large carnivores inhabiting Kenya’s national parks and reserves are currently being affected negatively by two forms of anthropogenic activity; large-scale climate change and local activity of humans on a smaller scale. Research now being conducted by scientists affiliated with the Mara Hyena Project of Michigan State University seeks to document the separate and additive effects of these two forms of anthropogenic activity by comparing patterns of behavior, demography and stress physiology in large carnivores in the Conservancy with those observed in carnivores inhabiting the eastern portion of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Whereas climate change affects both sides of the Reserve similarly, local human activity in the form of firewood gathering, livestock grazing and poaching is tightly controlled in the Conservancy but rampant in the eastern Mara. Michigan State University researchers monitor numbers of spotted hyenas, lions and cheetah and their prey on both sides of the Reserve, and use spotted hyenas as a sentinel species, in which changes in hyena behaviour or stress physiology may predict population declines in these and other large carnivores.