Geophagy and nutrient supplementation in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania, with particular reference to selenium, cobalt and molybdenum
Wildlife and livestock in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), Tanzania, commonly practise geophagy. We investigated the nutrient content of nine earth licks and adjacent topsoils in the NCA, and for comparative purposes, two salt pans in north-eastern Tanzania, licks in central Tanzania and a lick near Puerto Maldonado, Peru. The licks had no consistent pattern of nutrient enrichment relative to unutilized topsoils, although the Na content of licks was greater than that of the adjacent topsoils at all but one site. The three largest licks in the NCA (Gibbs Farm, Seneto and Ascent Road) were enriched relative to topsoils and global averages in Se (maximum of 4.7 mg kg-1), Co (maximum of 107 mg kg-1) and/or Mo (maximum of 7.4 mg kg -1). We suggest that licks do provide supplemental Na, but that Se, Co and/or Mo at the largest licks provide easily overlooked nutritional benefits and are perhaps the primary target for geophagy at these sites. Subsoil zones of clay deposition are likely to be enriched in various elements through illuviation or mineral precipitation from solution. Animals may use the taste of NaCl as a clue for locating such zones where they are likely to find a greater quantity of micronutrients relative to other soils. These findings have consequences for conservation and pastoralism in that these large licks may be key resources, providing micronutrients that are essential for maintaining the health and fecundity of animal as well as human populations in the region. © 2006 The Zoological Society of London.