A stunningly beautiful, yet highly endangered, Grevy’s zebra stands tall in the harsh sun of northern Kenya. Strangely, most people in the world have never heard of it, let alone seen one, despite Grevy’s zebra being rarer than black rhinos. Kenya is home to over 90% of the world's remaining Grevy's zebra and The Great Grevy’s Rally, a two-day photographic census, aims to monitor the status and health of these inspiring animals in a single weekend. In January of 2016 the first Great Grevy’s Rally successfully brought together 118 teams who collectively drove over 25,000 kilometres, rode another few thousand on motorbikes and flew over 100 hours across the rugged landscape to capture over 40,000 photographs! On the 27th and 28th of January 2018 conservancy managers, county officials, community members, local and international citizen scientists will once again join conservationists in counting and photographing all Grevy’s zebra.
To do this, we have helped scientists from Princeton University develop class leading software that extracts unique stripe patterns (Stripe ID) of each photographed zebra’s coat. Individual ‘capture’ rates from these photographs are then analysed to estimate the number of animals in the landscape. Further photo analysis provides crucial population information such as sex ratios and age classes which inform the conservation status of the entire Grevy’s zebra population.
In the 2016 census, Marwell and partners on the Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee1, estimated the population to consist of approximately 2,350 individuals. After the many conservation challenges of the last two years, including political unrest, poaching and severe drought, it is vital we census the population again to document changes. This second census will also include, for the first time, reticulated giraffe over most of its range. In Kenya reticulated giraffe have lost 80% of the population in the last 30 years and Marwell will use the information to find out more about the local populations in Northern Kenya with partners in the Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group (IUCN SSG).
This year we will again be mobilising a team of desert outriders on motorbikes and bush pilots in light aircraft to support the ground teams. The planes will search the area, flying low and slow and ferreting out the elusive “horses of the sun”! Any sightings will be relayed by radio to the ground teams who will dispatch both the bikes and vehicles, accompanied by our knowledgeable scouts, to locate the animals and photograph them from close up.
The challenges are great, long distances and long hours spent scouring the desert for an equid that can spend up to 5 days in the sun without water. The last of its distinctive zebra lineage, the Grevy’s zebra is an icon of survival and an indicator of the health of these delicately balanced ecosystems. Marwell is focusing our in-country resources on the hardest part of Grevy’s zebra range to reach. Our field site near South Horr2 is nested between the monolithic massifs of Mount Nuiru and Mount Kulal near the shores of Lake Turkana. For the past 5 years we have been working with local communities and talented young Kenyans to develop a conservation footprint that takes in these magnificent dry lands. To date, 19 scouts including a core unit of Peace Through Wildlife Caretakers (Ilkirimats), made up of Turkana and Samburu women, form a network of observers. Using camera traps and phone apps to record sightings, they log every incident and every location of a Grevy’s zebra they encounter, feeding rich information into landscape planning, conservation action and scientific understanding.
1GZTC: Marwell Wildlife, Kenya Wildlife Service, The Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Northern Rangelands Trust, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Princeton University.