Grevy’s Zebra Update: Marwell’s drought response in northern Kenya

As well as being devastating for people across this region, endangered wildlife is also suffering. Long-term degradation of their habitats, largely as a result of persistent over-grazing since the 1980s, has limited the ability of these ecosystems to recover from further impacts and so wildlife are ever more affected by increasingly depleted food and water resources. 

Marwell Wildlife has been undertaking emergency action to deliver additional feed to sustain the endangered Grevy’s zebra population in northern Kenya. Working closely with communities, whose livestock also benefit from this much needed food, Marwell is ensuring the last remaining Grevy’s are able to survive through this drought period. 

During similar conditions in 2009, when no interventions took place, the Grevy’s zebra population suffered a huge loss. In response, Marwell and colleagues from the Grevy’s zebra Technical Committee provided hay for the species for the first time in 2011, which succeeded in minimising reported losses. As this is a very direct species management method, we are monitoring its impact on the Grevy’s closely, to ensure that it has no deleterious effects. 

Due to ever more frequent drought conditions across the Grevy’s zebra range, the Disease Response Committee within the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has produced guidelines on supplementary feeding. They stipulate that the decision to intervene should be made in consultation with KWS, the National Reserves, the community conservancies and the Grevy’s Zebra Technical and Disease Response Committees. 

So far, over 100 bales of hay have been provided for Grevy’s zebra at seven sites across the region. Marwell’s Conservation Biologists are monitoring the uptake of feed using camera trapping and a local scout network to understand how best to deploy this vital resource. 

As well as providing manpower on the ground, Marwell retains an emergency fund out of donations from European zoos to enable it to contribute to such crises rapidly and transfer funds to cover supplementary feeding without any delay. 

Numbers of Grevy’s zebra have declined from an estimated 15,000 in the 1970s to as few as 2,000 now, with the vast majority of these in northern Kenya. This makes the Grevy’s zebra even rarer than the black rhino and one of the worlds’s most endangered large mammals. 

Marwell Wildlife has been working for Grevy’s zebra conservation for over 30 years, through management of captive breeding programmes and practical field conservation in Kenya. During this time it has developed and supported innovative survey techniques, such as using stripe patterns to identify individuals and improve population assessments. Marwell also uses GPS satellite tracking to follow the movements of Grevy’s zebra across these vast areas and to understand the factors that influence their distributions and monitor the survival of individuals. Valuable information emerging from these approaches has helped to identify how Grevy’s zebra are affected by human communities and competition with livestock for resources, particularly water. Understanding these relationships has allowed the development of targeted conservation actions, such as the provision of community managed water resources that benefit Grevy’s zebra, alongside other wildlife, people and their livestock. Further engagement with communities has resulted in Marwell Wildlife employing local people as Community Scouts, who monitor key wildlife species in their area and act as ambassadors for conservation. Nomadic pastoralist communities are often astute land managers and appreciate the need for biodiversity and ecosystem protection. The wealth of indigenous local knowledge is a vast resource that Marwell is tapping into through their inclusive approach.

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