Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 12, pp 3431-3444

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Evaluating the protection of wildlife in parks: the case of African buffalo in Serengeti

  • K. L. MetzgerAffiliated withCentre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , A. R. E. SinclairAffiliated withCentre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia
  • , Ray HilbornAffiliated withSchool of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington
  • , J. Grant C. HopcraftAffiliated withFrankfurt Zoological Society, Serengeti National ParkArusha, Tanzania & Community and Conservation Ecology, University of Groningen
  • , Simon A. R. MdumaAffiliated withSerengeti Biodiversity Programme, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute


Human population growth rates on the borders of protected areas in Africa are nearly double the average rural growth, suggesting that protected areas attract human settlement. Increasing human populations could be a threat to biodiversity through increases in illegal hunting. In the Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania, there have been marked declines in black rhino (Diceros bicornis), elephant (Loxodonta africana) and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) inside the protected area during a period when there was a reduction of protection through anti-poaching effort (1976–1996). Subsequently, protection effort has increased and has remained stable. During both periods there were major differences in population decline and recovery in different areas. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the possible causes of the spatial differences. We used a spatially structured population model to analyze the impacts of three factors—(i) hunting, (ii) food shortage and (iii) natural predation. Population changes were best explained by illegal hunting but model fit improved with the addition of predation mortality and the effect of food supply in areas where hunting was least. We used a GIS analysis to determine variation in human settlement rates and related those rates to intrinsic population changes in buffalo. Buffalo populations in close proximity to areas with higher rates of human settlement had low or negative rates of increase and were slowest to recover or failed to recover at all. The increase in human populations along the western boundary of the Serengeti ecosystem has led to negative consequences for wildlife populations, pointing to the need for enforcement of wildlife laws to mitigate these effects.


African buffalo Animal monitoring data Enforcement Illegal hunting Instantaneous rate of population change Serengeti National Park