Did you know a zebra’s stripe patterns are as unique as a fingerprint!
Imagine in ten or twenty years from now, in a museum, there stands a perfectly preserved beauty. It looks like the common picture of a zebra, but with distinct differences. It is tall with a long narrow neck that supports a long narrow head with a distinct mane. The body is all covered up in distinct black and white thin stripes all the way to its ears. The stripes are not only narrow, but are also closely set and run across the back except their belly and base of the tail.
Ever seen or heard of it? Most of us have not. This, of course is the grevy’s zebra, a profound and unique member of the zebra family.
The reason why this majestic creature might be frozen in a museum in the years to come is due to its rapid decline in numbers over the years. It is now listed among the endangered species list on the World conservation Union (IUCN). In the 1970s, their numbers were estimated to be 15,000 and currently they have been reduced to only 2500.
The grevy’s zebra stands tall at 1.3 – 1.6 meters, the male ranges in weight between 350 – 450 kilograms and females slightly less, between 350 – 400 kilograms.
The mating period for the grevy’s is in the rainy season between August and October and the gestation period is about 350 – 400 days. A grevy’s young one is called a foal. The foals hang around their mothers for up to three years and suckle for up to three months without drinking water.
In the wild the grevy’s zebra can live up to 20 years under right conditions and in captivity they can go up to 40 years.
Fun fact: within the first hour of birth a foul can follow any moving zebra and therefore within the first hour of birth, females tend to be very protective of their new born. This is so as to prevent any other females from adopting the new foal as it’s on.
What we see in most of our national parks and reserves and what is most common are the plain zebras. The grevy’s zebra are rarer, found mostly in the northern part of Kenya. In the early years, 1970s, these zebras were found across the horn of Africa region; Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya. As at now, these rare gems are only found in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia, with Kenya boasting of larger numbers.
A number of factors have contributed to their worrying reduction in numbers.
Habitat loss is the primary cause of the decline over the years. Since the early years, human population has been on the rise continuously. With this comes more demand on environmental resources. In the northern part of Kenya, the communities are majorly pastoralists who keep large number of cattle for their sustenance. This increase in number of cattle greatly affected the grevy’s traditional range areas.
Competition for food; as stated, the pastoral communities have seen an increase in the number of cattle reared over the years. This has also resulted in overgrazing and its negative effects such as erosion, further putting a strain on the pasture available for the grevy’s zebra. They primarily eat grass and times leaves, spending 60% of their time grazing and this time increases when the pasture is less.
Declining water; although the grevy’s zebra can go up to five days without water, the female however needs water on a daily basis, during the lactating period. As it has been witnessed over the years, water sources have been on the decline due to climate change, pollution, overdrawing and exclusion. Climate change has resulted in very little rainfall and further spread of heat and dry conditions. This has in turn resulted in drying up of the water holes and water points. The Ewaso Ngiro river basin is a very important water source for the grevy’s zebra. Due to over extraction upstream for irrigation purposes, the volume of water has greatly decreased.
Culture; Some cultures believe in the medicinal value of the grevy’s meat and fat. In order to get this, the zebras have to be hunted and killed. Another negative cultural effect is just simply the disregard of their importance. This plays out when the community members chase away the zebras from the water sources.
Poaching and predation; Over the years, the grevy’s zebras have been massively hunted and killed (poached) for their beautiful and uniquely stripped skin. This has been greatly demanded by the fashion industry and market.
Other inevitable factors have also been diseases and infestation. Sometimes cattle can transmit diseases like anthrax to the zebras.
Biodiversity and Intrinsic value: The fact that the grevy’s zebras exist makes them of great importance and a national treasure to the country. This warrants their protection and right to survive. They are only found in two countries on earth and Kenya boasts of having the largest numbers. Laikipia County has the most population; however they can also be found in Marsabit, Meru, Isiolo and of course Samburu areas. they therefore contribute to the biodiversity of these areas.
Economic contribution: since the zebra is a tourist attraction, it therefore contributes to the over 12 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) .Apart from the national contribution, tourism also contributes greatly to local economies. This is through the associated businesses such curio shops, sale of traditional beads and other shops and establishments that local communities engage in.
Research and academic purposes: Kenya being among the two countries with the population places us at a special position to support research opportunities and academia from across the world. This is an avenue to involve school children in conservation at an early age.
Way forward and Successes
As Wangari Maathai one stated “I’m very conscious of the fact that one can’t do it alone. It is team work. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it” this is the reason why a multi-collaborative approach is important.
All is not lost however; the situation is not entirely doom and gloom. Recent efforts to improve on the grevy’s population have borne fruits and numbers have reported increased from 2350 in 2016 to 2812 currently. This is according to the recent KWS Grevy’s Zebra Conservation and Research Conference.
There have been efforts from local and national government, conservancies, international and local organizations to ensure the survival of the zebras.
There have been efforts to ensure a steady number of the zebras and their success has been mainly attributed to the full involvement of the local communities in every step and effort. The locals are the ones who directly interact with nature and therefore have the best understanding of what works and what is needed. They are the first conservation experts.
Top among the efforts is land use planning within communities. This simply entails dividing grazing lands and rotation of the livestock. It is a method that has in time resulted in positive results. It gives time for the degraded land to regrow new grass and additionally, the cattle droppings also serve as manure.
Another range of efforts have been the conservancies and reserves. 90 percent of the current grevy’s zebra populations are in protected areas such as the Lewa conservancy. This is a better way to monitor the populations and ensure their well-being and survival.
Awareness campaigns within communities and general public also helps in bringing about conversation around the topic. This has been through directly involving communities in monitoring the zebra well-being and reporting any concerning case. Another way has been through the use of mainstream media to create general public awareness on the plight of the zebras as well as efforts and how one can help.
So what can you do?
Participate in the initiatives such as the most recent Great Grevy’s Rally, an opportunity to learn, create awareness and support the programs. Visit the conservancies and learn more about these rare animals first hand and practically.
The Grevy’ s Zebra in its own right and uniqueness serves to bring a balance that we shouldn’t wait to find out about it when there is only one remaining.