Invasive species threaten Laikipia’s fragile wildlife

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021 00:00 |

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Invasive and potentially invasive plant species are threatening the already endangered wildlife in Laikipia County, researchers from CABI and the University of Queensland, Australia now warn.

Laikipia is home to the second-highest number of endangered wildlife in East Africa including elephant, rhino, Grevy’s  zebra, reticulated giraffe and wild dogs.

Only the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem has a larger number of endangered wildlife.

Researchers warn that without concerted efforts to eradicate, contain or control the invasive species, many rare and iconic wildlife will be lost.

Invasive species -usually fast growing and spreading- take up space needed for the growth of grasses and other vegetation that provides food for the wildlife populations.

Widespread species in the county included Opuntia stricta, O ficus-indica, Austrocylindropuntia subulata and other succulents.

Of the 145 alien plant species recorded, 67 and 37 -including four species of uncertain origin- were considered to be already naturalised or invasive, respectively, and a further 41 species had been recorded as being naturalised or invasive outside of Laikipia.

Most of these species were introduced as ornamentals only or had uses in addition to being ornamentals, with the majority – at least 77- having their origins in tropical America.

“Alien plant invasions pose significant threats to conservation and livelihoods in Laikipia.

As such, it would be prudent to develop and implement management strategies to reduce the threats of all invasive and potentially invasive plant species,” observed Dr Arne Witt, a researcher with CABI, a global non-profit organisation that provides information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

The researchers strongly advocate the use of biological controls as cost effective, safe and environmentally sustainable ways to manage some of the invasive plants as part of an integrated management plan.

Dr Witts adds that it is imperative all naturalised, invasive and potentially invasive plant species be removed from the grounds of all tourist facilities and possibly in villages that fall within areas where main land-use practice is livestock production and conservation.

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