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Savannas of Our Birth: People, Wildlife, and Change in East Africa

Robin S. Reid
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Savannas of Our Birth
    Book Description:

    This book tells the sweeping story of the role that East African savannas played in human evolution, how people, livestock, and wildlife interact in the region today, and how these relationships might shift as the climate warms, the world globalizes, and human populations grow. Our ancient human ancestors were nurtured by African savannas, which today support pastoral peoples and the last remnants of great Pleistocene herds of large mammals. Why has this wildlife thrived best where they live side-by-side with humans? Ecologist Robin S. Reid delves into the evidence to find that herding is often compatible with wildlife, and that pastoral land use sometimes enriches savanna landscapes and encourages biodiversity. Her balanced, scientific, and accessible examination of the current state of the relationships among the region’s wildlife and people holds critical lessons for the future of conservation around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95407-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Searching for the Middle Ground
    (pp. 1-16)

    This is the story of where all our human ancestors probably came from: Africa, particularly the savannas of Africa. Over millions of years, these savannas gradually replaced forests and woodlands in some places, and hominins (including ancestors of humans) took advantage of these new environments. In these savannas are the oldest known footprints of hominins walking upright, a habit that freed our ancestors’ hands for carrying, digging, and throwing. Here, our ancestors probably crafted their first tools and hunted and scavenged wildlife. And as far as we know, it is from here, millennium after millennium, that our forebears repeatedly left...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Savannas of Our Birth
    (pp. 17-46)

    The shade under the “tree of the men” is cool, the light soft compared to the brightness of noon out in the sun in northern Kenya. “Cool” is relative here; the shade is almost body temperature (37°C, or 98.6°F), the sun beyond the leafy canopy a painful 110°F. It is the dry season. No grass grows on the plains beyond the line of riverine trees under which we sit. Upstream, a group of calves stands sleepily under a large acacia tree. Someone in Ewoi’s family will come soon, unhook a long stick lodged in the tree’s branches, and shake down...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Pastoral People, Livestock, and Wildlife
    (pp. 47-72)

    Ole Nkare steps through the thorn fence that surrounds his corral, bending to pick up and examine a newborn kid. He likes what he sees: many healthy goats that will probably grow quickly and fetch a good price at the market. He glances south toward the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 65 km (40 mi) away, across a landscape almost unchanged since his grandmother was a girl: an open savanna with no fences, where wildlife and livestock often graze side by side. Here, in Olgulului Group Ranch, he and his family move their cattle, sheep, and goats freely as the seasons...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Moving Continents, Varying Climate, and Abundant Wildlife: Drivers of Human Evolution?
    (pp. 73-94)

    The most remarkable demonstration of the ancient relations between people and wildlife in east African savannas exists in the fossil footprints of three small hominins, surrounded by other animal footprints, in the now solid ash that, 3.7 million years ago, spewed from a volcano in what today is northern Tanzania, a place known as Laetoli. At that time, three individuals ofAustralopithecus afarensis,a species that may be ancestral to that of all people alive today, walked on the volcanic ash, leaving behind foot imprints that are the first physical evidence of hominins walking on two feet, a habit they...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Ecosystem Engineers Come of Age
    (pp. 95-121)

    Up to about 12,000 years ago, all people on Earth gathered or hunted the natural bounty that grew wild on the land and in the sea.³ This likely created “soft boundary” landscapes (see Map 12), a fluid mixing of people and wildlife in savannas. During that time, people diverted minor amounts of energy and nutrients from the food web for human needs, making for the most part only light and ephemeral impacts on the land. Then, about 12,000 bp, people began to domesticate and grow animals and plants for food—and the ecosystem engineering of savannas started in earnest. In...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Can Pastoral People and Livestock Enrich Savanna Landscapes?
    (pp. 122-145)

    From a distance, the green patch looked like an emerald embedded in a yellow sea of grass, impossibly brilliant and round. Perhaps a small swamp or wetland of some sort? But it was in an odd place to be a small swamp, too far from the base of a hill or a river to make any sense. We drove slowly through the tall grass, pushing away a herd of gazelles grazing on the patch of short green grass as we stepped out of the Land Rover. Ole Sidai, his redshukaflapping in the dry breeze, walked us slowly around...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN When Coexistence Turns into Conflict
    (pp. 146-162)

    After thousands of mornings herding sheep and goats, this one was different for Ole Shani. A “good” buffalo that he and his family had seen around theirboma(homestead) for months had suddenly gone “bad” and attacked him. That evening, as we gave Ole Shani first aid, I asked what a “good” buffalo was. Ole Shani explained that some buffalo will live around Maasai settlements for months and only occasionally chase someone, rarely hurting them. Although he and his family are still wary of “good” buffalo, they tolerate them as part of the herding life in the Mara, as herders...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Serengeti-Mara: “Wild Africa” or Ancient Land of People?
    (pp. 163-183)

    Ole Nasipa walks toward hisbomawith his cattle, proud that his reading lessons are paying off and he can read the headlines in that day’sStandardnewspaper. He always wanted to go to school as a boy, but it was his place in the family to herd livestock while his younger brother attended school. He can see that his little brother does not always know why a cow is sick or which plants are best for medicines. He thinks about his young daughter, who is the first girl to ever attend school in his family, and wonders what the...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Amboseli: “Cattle Create Trees, Elephants Create Grassland” in the Shadow of Kilimanjaro
    (pp. 184-201)

    Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain on Earth, a massive water tower 60 × 90 km (37 × 56 mi) at the base. Few people walk all the way from its frozen icecap in northern Tanzania to the hot and dusty plain of Amboseli in southern Kenya, a vertical distance of almost 5 km (3 mi), and 35 km (22 mi) as the crow flies. But let us imagine such a walk by three people with contrasting views of this region: a Chagga farmer, an Ilkisonko Maasai herder, and a park ranger. The three start in Tanzania at the...

  13. CHAPTER TEN The Kaputiei Plains: The Last Days of an Urban Savanna?
    (pp. 202-220)

    The scene is poignant, full of possibility, yet impossible. David, only the second man in his pastoral community village to receive a master’s degree (and who now has his Ph.D.), grins broadly in front of my camera, resplendent in academic cap and gown, with bright Maasai beads criss-crossed over his chest. Over his shoulder, an ostrich grazes calmly, and behind the ostrich a high-tech farm raising cut flowers for export to Europe stands in the middle of a rolling savanna that extends from one horizon to the other. Behind me stretches Nairobi National Park, with only a fence separating us...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN Ngorongoro: A Grand Experiment of People and Wildlife
    (pp. 221-237)

    Ngorongoro is a grand experiment, a ground-breaking effort to integrate the conservation of wildlife with the development of people. But is this experiment a success? The answer to this question depends on one’s point of view. From a wildlife and tourism perspective, Ngorongoro is a huge success for conservation and its profits, generating half of all game viewing fees that the Tanzanian government receives from its wildlife estate, usually more than the nearby Serengeti. Even so, those with the interests of wildlife at heart worry that the expanding human populations living in Ngorongoro and their need to farm are damaging...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE Savannas of Our Future: Finding Diversity in the Middle Ground
    (pp. 238-266)

    Now comes the biggest question: Why is this story important? The answer is simple: This story is important because this is where our ancestors came from and savannas are part of our deepest evolutionary past. Many of us today live in urban areas, yet the basic materials for most of our basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) are created by people harvesting the bounty of rural lands; thus, it is also a story about the critical struggle to balance lifestyles, food production, and the health of the environment. If you are an east African but not a herder, this is the...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 267-296)
    (pp. 297-366)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 367-396)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 397-398)