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Making a Living Where You Can’t — Grevy’s Zebra Persevere

June 25, 2015

Grevy’s zebra migrated to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy approximately 45 years ago. Since their arrival, population numbers have fluctuated and  Lewa closely monitors the species along with all other game species as part of its long-term monitoring plan.

Understanding the sub-population within the conservancy helps contribute to improving the long-term national strategy plan, which is reviewed every four years by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and partners in the Grevy’s zebra Technical Committee (GZTC). 
Outside the fence Lewa also plays an active role. An exciting field mission took place in March 2015 as the conservation biologist for Marwell Wildlife, Dr. Zeke Davidson, led a team compromised of Lewa and KWS staff to northern Kenya, South Horr region to attach GPS radio collars to a previously undocumented sub-population. Without the help of Dr. Mattew Mutinda, veterinarian in Lewa’s research department, this effort would not be possible. Lewa and Marwell Wildlife both serve as members of the GZTC, whose primary focus is to ensure the species survival. 

Prior to this mission, only anecdotal evidence existed of individuals in this area. Now however, after successfully collaring two females, a crucial step towards understanding connectivity between all sub-populations in northern Kenya has been taken. Even more encouraging is the healthy status of the individuals encountered during the dry season. Despite very limited natural resources in an ecosystem shared with livestock and pastoral people, Grevy’s zebras appear to make the most of their environment by eating shrubs along with grasses (An adaption which equips them for desert living) and migrating long distances to reach water (thy can go 4 – 5 days without drinking).  

It has been known for some time that livestock and human settlements influence Grevy’s zebra movement. And more generally, understanding where settlements and water sources are located is imperative not only for appropriate wildlife management planning, but also to predict wildlife movements and mitigate human wildlife conflicts. A collaborative effort including all non-profit organizations in northern Kenya began in March to collate and organize all existing settlement data into one, open source, meta-database. Lewa is contributing to this project by providing data for Leparua, Il Ngwesi and Lekurruki community conservancies. This serves as an exciting move towards increased communication between different institutions that will hopefully speed up conservation efforts.