Manyara National Park is found along the shores of the huge Manyara Lake. It has a diverse range of habitat types including savannah, acacia scrubland, wetlands and tropical forest. The steep slopes that adjoin are covered in ‘ground water forest’, maintained by the constant flow of water from the Ngorongoro Highlands. With a high diversity of tree species including fruit yielding figs, the forest provides an important source of food and water for wildlife year round.
On the lower plains of the park small herds of grazers known as ungulates could be seen, including Cape buffalo (Syncerous caffer), wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and zebra (Equus quagga). These iconic species all depend on the availability of short grasses to feed on, resulting in direct competition for resources between species. In such an arid environment food can be scares, so the animals have to adapt by following the abundance of new grass growth which occurs after rainfall. Zebra and Wildebeest in particular are known to converge into huge mixed species groups for the migrations.
It is surprising that the landscape can support such large numbers of animals foraging for the same food. Studies such as that by Young et al (2005) suggest that grazing by wildlife does not make the habitat unsuitable for similar species. However, the wildlife is also in competition with cattle which are grazed by pastoralists. Unlike the pressures of wildlife, grazing of cattle dramatically depletes the habitat leaving little to eat.
Although in relatively small numbers, the presence of these three large ungulates in the Manyara Lake National Park demonstrate that preventing cattle grazing allows these herds to persist. The conflict between pastoralists and native wildlife is a continuous and controversial issue. On leaving the park the stark contrast between the fertile grounds within and the arid scenes just outside its boundaries drive home just how important an issue this is!