Loss of habitat threatens further decline of rare Grevy's Zebras

Grevy's Zebra.
Habitat degradation and competition for resources have been identified as key threats facing rare Grevy's zebras.

Loss of habitat due to heavy grazing of livestock has led to low survival rate of grevy’s zebras as they have to compete for resources with other animals.

The population of the zebra species has reduced over the years from 5,800 in 1980s to about 2,300, with Kenya hosting over 90 per cent of the global population in the wild.

Northern Kenya where most grevy’s zebras are found, has experienced the impacts of overgrazing.

During the 2018 Census Rally to count the zebras in Samburu, Laikipia, Marsabit, and Isiolo counties, data showed that the population has gone down to about 2,000. The national population declined from 11 per cent in 2016 to five per cent in 2018.

According to Peter Lalampa, rangelands manager at Grevy Zebra Trust, engagement of the pastoralists communities in the four counties where the largest population of the zebras are found has contributed to curbing rapid decline of their population.

“We have held community-led approaches in the areas where the grevy’s zebras are inhabited so as to educate locals on the importance of conservation of the rare animals. They have changed the traditional grazing practices,” said Lalampa.

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Rehabilitation of the rangelands by planting grass is among the initiative adopted to save grevy’s zebras.

“We have introduced, with community elders, thorn-fenced enclosures that livestock sleep in overnight for effective rehabilitation of bare ground,” he added.

Grevy’s zebras inhabit semi-arid grasslands where they have access to a permanent water source. Historically, the grevy’s zebras inhabited the semi-arid scrublands and plains of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Kenya in East Africa.

However, due to rapid declines in their population, they are now confined to the Horn of Africa, primarily southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya.

“Poor land health is a threat to the entire ecosystem since the loss of habitat for grazing animals means that there will not no prey for meat-eaters in the ecosystem. We are using the community-led approach so as to foster a harmonious co-existence between humans and wildlife that surrounds them,” said Mr Lalampa.

Anne Buuri, the organisation’s manager in charge of Grevy’s Census Rallies, said the numbers have been stable over the past two years.

Monitor population

The census is carried out after two years to monitor the population as way of implementing the 2017-2026 Recovery and Action Plan for grevy’s zebras launched by the Kenya Wild Service.

“From the previous census, it appears that the grevy’s zebras population is constant but something has to be done to save the remaining ones. We will have more community members participating in the next exercise,” Ms Buuri said.

The exercise involves local community members being equipped with photographic devices and assigned to areas where zebras are more sparsely distributed to take shots of the uniquely stripped zebras on the grasslands.

The geo-tagged photos are later processed by a special software to identify each grevy’s zebra, its age, location, and sex from its unique stripes.

The grevy’s zebras are mostly found in northern Kenya and are distinguishable from the plain zebra species.

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Grevy's zebras