Conservation Efforts Pay Off in Kenya for World’s Rarest Zebra Species

Conservation efforts are paying off for Grevy's Zebras
Grevy’s zebras have been on the endangered list for the last 30 years.
Suzi Eszterhas/USAID
Grevy’s zebra population increases following decades-long decline
“The world is a better and more colorful place with the Grevy’s in the wild.”

July 2018 — In 1882, the Government of Absynnia (now Ethiopia) gifted one of its iconic zebras to President of France Jules Grevy. The exotic animal was then recognized as its own species of zebra and given the name Grevy’s zebra. This species of zebra is identified and differentiated from other zebra species by its fine close-set stripes, white belly, and large ears, among other traits.

By the 1970s, the estimated population of the Grevy’s zebra was 15,000 throughout East Africa. By 2008, the population had dropped to approximately 2,300, and Grevy’s were only living in Kenya and Ethiopia — with 90 percent in northern Kenya. The question loomed whether poaching, desertification and destruction of the Grevy’s habitat would push this animal to extinction in the wild.

Grevy’s zebras have been on the endangered list for the last 30 years.

A recent census of the Grevy’s zebra was conducted in January 2018 and the results were encouraging — an increase of 462 zebras since 2016, from approximately 2,350 to a current population of 2,812. This is impressive especially considering the recent droughts in the region and increased competition from livestock for diminishing food sources.

Since 2004, the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organization dedicated to building the resilience of Kenyan people while protecting the country’s nature and wildlife, has been at the tip of the spear in protecting all wildlife in northern Kenya. The trust, in close cooperation with the Kenya Wildlife Service, has worked hard to protect the Grevy’s zebra as well as the multitude of other species in Kenya.

The U.S. Government has partnered with the Northern Rangelands Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service for many years to protect and conserve Kenya’s globally important natural resources and wildlife. Kenya’s economy and people’s livelihoods are highly dependent on these natural resources and nature-based tourism.

The challenge for survival has not ended for the Grevy’s zebra. Without rigorous conservation, coordination with the Kenyan Government, and effective private sector partnerships, the Grevy’s zebra is at risk of going the way of the northern white rhino. The recent passing of Sudan, the world’s last male rhino of his species, is a painful reminder that no species can be taken for granted.

“The biggest challenge for Grevy’s zebras is loss of range due to degradation. Our conservation efforts are succeeding at protecting rangelands,” said Tom Lalampaa, CEO of the Northern Rangelands Trust.

Continued efforts to protect and stabilize this beautiful animal may mean its survival for generations to come.

“The world is a better and more colorful place with the Grevy’s in the wild,” said Juniper Neill, director of the environment office at USAID’s Kenya and East Africa mission. “Communities play a key role in protecting wildlife on community lands and play a significant role in supporting on-the-ground efforts. Together with our partners, we are working on a community-based conservancy model that protects wildlife outside state-protected areas, expands economic opportunities for conservancy communities, and enhances resilience in the ability of people and landscapes to withstand climate variability and shocks.”

Since the 1980s, USAID has been working with local and international partners to enhance wildlife management. In partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, USAID pioneered the community conservancy model in Kenya that protects wildlife outside state-protected areas by improving security and increasing community awareness of the value and potential benefits of wildlife. The presence of stable iconic species expands economic opportunities for communities through tourism, promotes pride and cultural identity, and improves the overall resilience of people.

USAID support in northern and coastal Kenya, through the Northern Rangelands Trust, benefits 630,000 people in 35 community conservancies, covering 7 percent of Kenya’s land mass (45,000 square kilometers). This has helped create space for the 65 percent of wildlife living outside the country’s parks and reserves.

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Last updated: July 27, 2018

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