An outbreak of anthrax 100 km north of Lewa in the Wamba area that began in December 2005 appeared to be disproportionately killing equids and, in particular, Grevy's zebras. Although the situation was being closely monitored and livestock vaccination programs were undertaken in the affected areas, anthrax experts also strongly advised the implementation of a vaccination program for the Grevy's zebra sub-populations that were most at risk.
This programme was subsequently undertaken by the Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, county councils and communities. Over 620 Grevy's zebra were successfully darted out of the 1,000 individuals targeted. The vaccine was delivered by injection dart from vehicles and helicopters with the Lewa supercub coordinating the exercise from above. The logistics for such an operation were enormous and thanks to the incredible commitment of over 25 international zoos, zoo organisations and animal care institutions partnering to provide in excess of $120,000, this response effort was made possible.
The exercise started on the 15th February in the national reserves of Samburu and Buffalo Springs where the operation was carried out from vehicles. The team then moved down to Lewa and used the same approach as the terrain was easy and the animals habituated. For the populations around the Wamba area, darting took place from helicopters with two teams operating simultaneously and relaying information on the darted animals to the ground team. Six zebras were radio-collared from the Wamba populations to enhance the post-vaccination monitoring. We continue to watch the outbreak carefully, although initial signs point to a decrease in the number of deaths that are occurring.
By Belinda Low - NRT Endangered species coordinator