26 April 2014

Tanzania: Alien Grass Threatens Ngorongoro Eco-System

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is facing a new threat: Fast spreading and widely distributed alien plants are threatening both wildlife and livestock in the 'Mixed world heritage site.'

The strangely named tall, thick and chunky 'Goose Grass' crops, known by their botanical name of 'Eleusine Jaegeri' or locally as 'Makutiani' are rapidly growing in the Conservation Area, inhibiting the growth of other vegetation and threatening the survival of wildlife species as well as cattle.

The Acting Ecologist with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) Mr Patrice Mattay, revealed in Ngorongoro that the so-called 'buffalo grass' are among the 142 alien plants that in one way or another, have invaded

Tanzania's leading tourism and conservation hot spot.

"The NCAA had set aside a budget of 135 million/- to clear invasive alien plants for the fiscal year 2013/2014 but with the problem getting more serious, the allocation has been boosted with additional 80 million/-," stated Mr Mattay.

The problem with buffalo grass, according to the NCAA ecologist, is that the alien plants prevent other grasses to flourish in the conservation and these are the ones that wild herbivores feed on.

"They are also extremely hard which means when cattle and other animals try to eat them, their teeth fall off," pointed out Mr Mattay adding that it is only the buffalo species of wildlife that can eat the alien grass without problem but the remaining stable, including cattle belonging to the Maasai living within the NCAA face acute problem and danger from the invasive weeds.

The 'Makutiani' weeds, according to experts in the area are also resilient to fire because they store large amounts of water in their deep-grounded roots causing fires to be automatically put off.

"The only method of clearing the invasive 'Goose grass' is through hiring people to pull the weeds from the ground," said Mr Mattay, admitting that the process was extremely slow and cumbersome, taking into consideration that the conservation area measures a 8000 plus square kilometres.

Apparently, being a restricted conservation area, the NCAA management cannot employ chemical (herbicide) usage due to environmental concerns and at the moment, there are ongoing research studies to find out alternative ways of eliminating the 'Makutiani' weeds.

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