Distribution and socio-ecological impacts of the invasive alien cactus Opuntia stricta in eastern Africa
van Wilgen, B.W.
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Many cactus species have been introduced around the world and have subsequently become major invaders, inducing social and ecological costs. We recorded the distribution of Opuntia stricta in eastern Africa, and conducted 200 household interviews using semi-structured questionnaires to assess local perceptions of O. stricta in Laikipia County, Kenya. Opuntia stricta was widespread and abundant in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia and present at low densities in Uganda. In Laikipia County, pastoralists identified that O. stricta had been present for more than 10 years, and were of the opinion that it was still spreading and increasing in density. Two-thirds of respondents estimated that 50–75% of valuable grazing land had been invaded, and all felt that it contributed to the ill-health and death of livestock. Other negative impacts included reductions in native plant populations, rangeland condition, human health, and mobility of humans and animals. These negative impacts resulted in economic losses of US$ 500–1000 per household per year for 48% of households. Only 20% of respondents reported actively managing O. stricta, yet all respondents believed a reduction in the abundance of this weed would improve well-being. Management interventions are needed to reduce negative impacts.