Modern Threats to Zebra Habitat
A few decades ago, more than 15,000 Grevy’s zebra inhabited Africa. Today, fewer than 2,500 remain. The greatest threats facing the species today are habitat fragmentation and loss as more land is converted to agricultural use. Overgrazing by livestock is leading to significant environmental degradation - Grevy’s zebras compete with the ever-increasing livestock population and agricultural crops for water.
Getting a Head Count
Under the leadership of AWF research scientist Dr. Paul Muoria, AWF is working hard to better understand the Grevy’s zebras that live in Northern Kenya, specifically in the Samburu Heartland. With a clearer understanding of the Grevy’s population status and critical threats, AWF and its partners can develop effective conservation strategies.
Grevy's Zebra Conservation Project
Partnering with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other conservation organizations, various community-based groups in Samburu and Isiolo districts of Kenya, AWF set out in 2002 to conduct population censuses on community lands and the protected areas of Samburu, Buffalo and Shaba National Reserves.
When AWF initiated this project, the aim was to contribute towards the conservation of viable population of the Grevy’s zebra in the Samburu landscape. To accomplish achieve this goal, AWF drew these long-term objectives and methods:
Monitoring Grevy’s zebra population size, structure and distribution:
Data on the population size, status and the spatial and temporal distribution of Grevy’s zebras is necessary for effective management and conservation of this endangered species. In early 2003, the research team designed census routes to cover the potential areas used by Grevy’s zebra. Each area is surveyed at least every two months. For each group of Grevy’s zebras encountered, the following information is recorded: their position using Global Positioning System (GPS), number and group composition, habitat and other large grazers in the vicinity.
Grevy's zebra are also monitored through the line transects method. This method involves setting transects along which observers have to walk while searching for and counting target species. Once the target species is encountered, one has to measure their distance from the transect center-line and their bearing from the observation site. The distances and numbers are converted into densities using a statistical software.
Monitoring and mitigating threats to Grevy’s zebra survival:
The team monitors zebra mortality, from disease, and anti-poaching activities. In 2005, AWF initiated a community-based scout’s program to monitor wildlife abundance, the poaching threat and human-wildlife activities. Since then, only two incidents of Grevy’s zebra poaching have been reported.
Implimentation of the National Grevy’s Zebra Conservation and Management Strategy:
AWF and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) co-financed the development and production of a strategy document, which was officially launched in June 2008. AWF’s Director of Conservation Science Dr. Philip Muruthi is a member of the National Grevy’s Zebra Management Committee while Grevy’s Zebra Researcher Dr. Paul Muoria is a member of the National Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee and Wamba Site Management Committee. AWF is now well-positioned to use its research findings to influence policy formulation in respect to the conservation of Grevy’s zebra.
Community awareness meetings:
AWF is working with local communities to raise awareness and construct strategies that benefit the local people and the Grevy's zebra.
Using GPS–GSM collars to Map Grevy’s movements in and around Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves:
In 2010, five female Grevy’s zebra were fitted with GPS-GSM collars. The overall goal of collaring Grevy’s zebra was to investigate how Grevy’s zebra use the habitat in space and time.
See picture on right: KWS Vet Department personnel fit a collar on an adult female Grevy’s zebra in Buffalo Spring National Reserve.
Since its inception, AWF’s Grevy’s zebra research has made considerable progress in gaining a greater understanding of the population. Until AWF and its partners intensified their work on the Grevy's zebra over the last several years, there was little awareness about its conservation status at the local, national and international levels. Armed with data and information on the temporal and spatial distribution of Grevy’s zebras in the landscape, the AWF team is now working closely with local communities and authorities to secure key areas for Grevy’s zebra conservation.
Conservation of this species involves initiatives like exploring alternative land uses, forming participatory natural resource management plans and raising the legal status of Grevy’s zebras. Currently, the species’ only protection is through the 1977 hunting ban. If the ban were lifted, the species could be hunted at a fee because it is still classified as a game animal. AWF’s proposal to upgrade the Grevy’s zebra from “game animal” to “protected animal” under Kenyan law has in principle been accepted by KWS.
Hopes of a Bright Future for Grevy’s Zebra
While the Grevy’s zebra population is becoming more stable, the population has not recovered sufficiently enough to be removed from the list of Endangered Species. The Grevy's zebra must compete for limited forage and water resources with the pastoralists and their livestock. It must also move across the landscape as dictated by the seasonal distribution of water and pasture. Increasing human population and the resulting competition from alternative land uses continue to be a threat to corridors needed to ensure free movements of Grevy’s zebra and other wild animals.
But, AWF believes with diligence, the Grevy’s zebra population can rebound. Picture, above left: Community scouts being trained by KWS veterinary personnel in collecting samples.
AWF’s Grevy’s Zebra Research Project team is working fast and furiously to apply their census findings to the development of effective conservation efforts. AWF is working with reserves’ management and their rangers, who conduct regular patrols and are best placed to monitor the health of wild animal populations and their habitat in a sustainable way, to develop a Ranger Based Monitoring (RBM) system. Once piloted in Samburu National Reserve, the program will also be implemented in Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves. AWF is also set to integrate ecological monitoring into its Grevy's study.
AWF will be working hard to ensure that these beautiful equids can roam freely along their migratory routes, can graze sufficiently and have access to critical water sources.