Elephant grass threat to Tanzania's Ngorongoro park - The East African

Elephant grass threat to Tanzania's Ngorongoro park

Thursday February 28 2019

The Ngorongoro crater.

The Ngorongoro crater. Authorities are working with scientists from key universities in Tanzania to find ways to eradicate the spread of an invasive elephant grass. PHOTO | APOLINARI TAIRO | NMG 

APOLINARI TAIRO
By APOLINARI TAIRO
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Authorities in Ngorongoro Conservation Area are fighting the spread of an invasive elephant grass now spreading to occupy the highlands of the wildlife-rich park.

The plant had infested about 40 per cent of the highlands within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), posing a threat to wildlife and the Maasai cattle pasture.

NCAA chief conservator Dr Freddy Manongi said authorities are working with scientists from key universities in Tanzania to find ways to eradicate the plant.

He said that the alien grass, which is hard and non-palatable to most herbivores in the park harms browsers’ mouths and teeth.

Ecologists in the area say the grass is spreading quickly and could soon dominate the highlands of the 8,300 sq km of the NCAA highlands.

Authorities have started uprooting the grass.

They said that the decision to eradicate the invasive plant was reached after a recent forum brought on board pastoralists from northern regions of Arusha and Manyara through Tanzania People and Wildlife Group.

The campaign involves destroying invasive plants at early stages to avoid the continuation of the species, the official said, noting that destruction of the plants provides space for other plant species to regenerate.

Last year, NCAA conservators expressed concern about the speed at which the grass had made its way through Ngorongoro.

Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office (Environment) January Makamba had earlier told the NCAA to take immediate action to check spread of the grass.

The NCAA is a part of the wider Serengeti Mara ecosystem. There are more that 25,000 large mammals living in and around the park.

Lush vegetation surrounding the crater rim attracts a large number of animals. These include wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, buffaloes, eland and hartebeests.

The main attraction of the conservation area is the famous and world wonder of the Ngorongoro Crater.

This is the world’s largest unblooded and unbroken volcanic caldera, formed between two and three million years ago when a huge volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself.

The crater, which is now a magnet for tourists is regarded as a natural sanctuary for wildlife living below the 2,000ft-high walls that separate it with the rest of the conservation area.

Ngorongoro was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its fame and global impact on conservation and the history of man as written by various scientists after famous anthropologists Mary and Louis Leakey discovered the skull of early man at Olduvai Gorge.

Ngorongoro is the most visited wildlife park in northern Tanzania, hosting 647,817 tourists per year, who pay out a total of $60 million as entry fees.