There are three types of zebra, and the rarest of them all, now found almost exclusively in Kenya, is endangered. Here is how you can help.
A century ago, the most flamboyant and regal of all zebras, the Grevy’s zebra, roamed the semi-arid plains across what are now Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia. The zebra is known as ‘Punda kanga’ in Kiswahili and ‘Loiborkurum’ in Samburu, both of which translate to ‘White rumped.’ It was known as hippo tigris (horse-tiger or tiger-horse) in the Roman circus. To the Roman emperor Caracalla, the regal tiger-horses he had imported from Egypt were more than a sight to be hold. It was one of the most important acts in gladiatorial combats and chariot races.
In 1882, Menelik II, the famed and wildly successful Emperor of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) sent a zebra to the President of France, Jules Grevy. Emperor Menelik picked the one zebra he thought represented the imperial nature of his position and expressed his desire for relations with France.
A Zebra on a Diplomatic Mission
The zebra died a few weeks after it arrived at the Jardin des Plantes-which translates to the Garden of Plants, the main botanical garden in France. The zebras skin was mounted and put on display. Scholars who were studying the uniqueness of the stripe patterns sent images of the skin to London under the title “Grevy’s zebra” referring to the President. That title eventually became the name of the zebra.
Menelik used the zebra as a gift a few more times, sending two to Queen Victoria and two to the rustic American President Theodore Roosevelt -and two lions, only one of which survived the journey. This was the second time in recorded history that an Ethiopian ruler was sending gifts of the Grevy’s zebras. The other time, about a hundred years before, the King of a kingdom in what is now central Ethiopia sent two zebras, one to Jakarta and the other to Turkey. Today, there are only about 200 Grevy’s in Ethiopia.
The Zebra that stands out
The zebra, weighing in at over 400 kg when fully grown, has an arched neck and ears that are always upright. It has a prominent mane that disappears along the middle of its back. Its stripes are narrower than the common zebra, and go down all the way to the hooves. The easiest way to identify one is to look at its belly. Grevy’s have plain bellies, like a white waistcoat under a striped suit.
Unlike other zebras, the Grevy’s male zebra doesn’t move with the herds. Instead, it lives a bachelor life where it works hard to win and occupy territory, selecting spots with water and grazing fields. Then he just waits for the herds of females to strut by into his domain.
The Grevy’s zebra was decimated in Egypt, then in the Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia by 1912. Today, its numbers in Ethiopia are unsustainable as the populations are small and isolated. No one knows for sure how many of these imperial zebras there are in the Kenyan north.
At the height of hunting in the 1970s, there were about 15, 000 Grevy’s zebras in the world. Even with the ban on hunting in Kenya in 1977, the numbers dwindled over the next few decades, reaching a precarious 3, 500 by 2002. There are less than 2000 Grevy’s in the wild today, most of them in northern Kenya, and about 500 in captivity. The animals are found primarily in what conservationists call the Laikipia-Samburu-Isiolo-Marsabit complex. Two previous census, in 2008 and 2012, yielded 2, 407 and 2, 647 individuals in the wild respectively. The two were not conclusive because of constraints in the methods used, so Grevy’s zebra researchers and conservationists sought a new, more involving and expansive method of collecting data.
How you can help
The critical first step to any successful conservation intervention is to know the numbers. A census helps in planning, even for human populations, and designing solutions that have any chance of helping a species survive and thrive.?This year, the Great Grevy’s Rally seeks citizens as scientists in carrying out a proper census of the Grevy’s zebra. On the last two days of January, different teams of experts and citizen scientists will head out into the wild to find and photograph as many of the Grevy’s zebras as possible. The photographs will then be uploaded into ‘Hotspotter,’ a software database that uses a specific algorithm to identify individual members of the species. Participants will be equipped with digital cameras to allow for geotagged images that can be used to process the numbers, location and time.
To participate, book a spot on The Great Grevy’s Rally website.
You need a 4*4 vehicle that can handle the terrain of your assigned block, an awesome team seeking a thrill in the wild, and a keen eye. You can pack as many people as you need in the vehicle as long as no one calls shotgun because every team will be assigned a ranger.
The Great Grevy’s Rally is a chance for citizens like you and I to help scientists and researchers count this unique zebra and design interventions to save it from extinction. For the Grevy’s, Kenya is a last stand for this species.
Update: Follow Grevy’s Zebra Trust on Facebook [Link] for accommodation options.
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