Those who dream of traveling to East Africa often dream of experiencing beautiful landscapes teeming with native flora and fauna. If those dreams lead you to Maasailand, you might want to learn what makes the flora and fauna so spectacular. For centuries, Indigenous peoples, including the Maasai, have used the traditional practice of pastoralism to promote biodiversity and provide food security.

At its most simple, pastoralism is the keeping of domestic herbivores and dates back 10,000 years. A more complex understanding is that pastoralism, or agro-pastoralism, refers to the management of livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle over large areas. This often means traveling long distances to find green pastures. Due to this movement, it requires access to a lot of land. This process is found primarily in arid and semi-arid regions where water for agriculture is scarce and unreliable. Traditionally, pastoralism has been developed by nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples such as the Maasai. It is rooted in traditional knowledge and is vital to Maasai livelihood and culture, as it has been for thousands of years. 

As ecotourism pushes towards sustainable wildlife management, difficulties have arisen. Initiatives to protect wildlife have led to the removal of Maasai off of their ancestral lands and have fragmented the regions where they migrate cattle. This resulting disconnection of Maasai from this sustainable practice leads to food insecurity and threatens the loss of tradition and culture for the Maasai. However, it also threatens the biodiversity and magnificence of the landscape itself. 

Pastoralism not only provides food but can contribute to the conservation and survival of native species. It turns out, maintaining the appropriate livestock population benefits the surrounding wildlife. Livestock are able to digest the rough savannah grasses that other wildlife cannot. Then, their manure fertilizes higher nutrition plants for wildlife to eat. Researchers have even observed wildlife following herds of livestock around! Nature has a balance and when visiting East Africa we are reminded of how humans are a part of this balance. Aiding in biodiversity conservation efforts, some Maasai communities focus on managing native species such as Zebu cattle, Red Maasai Sheep, and local maize and beans. Maasailand and Maasai have co-adapted together to develop sustainable land-use practices. Recognition of Maasai as stewards of the East Africa rangelands is essential in biodiversity and cultural conservation efforts moving forward.