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Why are Grévy's zebra in serious danger of extinction?

Anthea Graham By Anthea Graham
31 Dec 2020
Grévy's Zebra - Internation Zebra Day - grazing beneath trees.jpeg

International Zebra Day is held every year at the end of January to raise awareness of zebra conservation. Did you know that the Grévy's zebra, the most threatened of the three zebra species, is now on the SERIOUSLY ENDANGERED LIST?

The Grévy's zebra is the largest of all wild equines, and is found only on the continent of Africa in Kenya and Ethiopia. Having alarmingly disappeared from much of its previous range, including Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan, it is now less common than even the rhino! The Grévy's zebra population has declined drastically since the 1970’s, from 15,000 individuals to under 3,000 today.


What has caused the Grévy's zebra population to decline so rapidly?

Sadly, along with many treasured species of African wildlife, there are a variety of pressures to their survival and many of which are caused by humans. For the Grévy's zebra, a major factor in their decline has been the reduction of their former range, a threat that continues today as they suffer further habitat destruction.

They compete for space, food and water with other grazing species and by human encroachment into grazing habitats, changing grasslands to agricultural use. According to the Grévy's Zebra Trust, the increasing scarcity of water resources has caused a higher rate of foal mortality.

As with so many other African species, poaching is also a major factor in population decline. Grévy's zebra are hunted for their skins and food, which is the main pressure to their survival in Ethiopia. Disease outbreaks such as anthrax have also increased mortality and this risk is compounded by fragmented populations who become more genetically isolated.


What is being done to conserve the Grévy's Zebra?

The Grévy's Zebra Trust was created in 2007 to conserve the population in northern Kenya. They work across more than 10,000km2 alongside the local communities to tackle threats to Grévy's zebra through a comprehensive range of projects. These include community partnerships and education, patrols, research, community-based monitoring, regenerating healthy rangelands and water management, amongst others.

The Grévy's Zebra Trust believes that healthy lands are critical to the survival of the Grévy's zebra and therefore focuses on the protection and regeneration of rangelands. It is essential that this is done in partnership with local communities, so they have fostered excellent relationships with pastoralist communities and employ local people as part of their monitoring and scouting programs (over 90% of the team are from communities who live alongside Grévy's zebra).


Restorative grazing programmes aim to combat habitat degradation by using livestock hooves to break up and aerate soil, allowing it to absorb water when the rains come, rather than losing it as run off. They also plan grazing cycles with local communities so that land has sufficient time to regenerate after grazing, meaning that vegetation can regrow fully rather than suffer constant grazing in the same areas.

The GZT also provide further support to local pastoral communities in the interest of conservation of zebra by:

  • Work with the community to incorporate both human and wildlife interests in all the programmes.
  • Provide training workshops to aid local conservation stewardship.
  • Encourage water management in the dry season.
  • Support secondary school education with scholarships for pastoral children.
  • Work with government planners to highlight the importance of conservation when planning infrastructure projects and as a result have saved some core zebra breeding lands in Meibai Conservancy.


In addition, the African Wildlife Foundation is working with the Kenya Wildlife Service to fit Grévy's zebra with GPS tracking collars in Buffalo Springs National Reserve, allowing them to be monitored to research their movement patterns. This data can then be used to protect the vital rangelands and create protected wildlife corridors.

They also engage wildlife scouts who provide protection of wildlife in Reserves and National Parks, which in turn leads to employment for local people and lower reliance on natural resources such as hunting wildlife to survive.


Where can you see Grévy's zebra in the wild?

In Kenya a safari incorporating the Laikipia region or northern Samburu, will offer good chances of sighting these beautiful creatures. The phenomenal Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy is a private reserve taken on an exclusive basis which has protected 58,000 acres of pristine wildlife habitat for generations.

At the famous Lewa-Borana Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, you can also actively participate in their invaluable wildlife conservation efforts. On a special conservation safari you can be part of the ranger team helping to track, locate and count game species for the annual wildlife census.


Borana Conservancy has some wonderful private villa options making this the perfect destination for an exclusive family safari where you have the freedom and flexibility to do exactly as you please, without having to fit in with other guests! My favourite private villas here are Laragai House and Lengishu House.

Lewa House, Lewa Wilderness, Sirikoi, Sasaab and Laikipia Wilderness are also wonderful places to stay, each offering something different but all allowing you to get close-up viewings of Grévy's zebra.


Alternatively, you can spend time in Ethiopia, one of Africa’s most compelling and interesting countries. Totally different to many other of Africa’s safari destinations, from the Blue Nile to the dramatic Gheralta Mountains, the arid Danakil Depression and the Omo Valley, the landscapes are astounding and varied.

Ethiopia's wildlife is also diverse, from savannah animals in the east to unique indigenous creatures like the gelada baboon and Ethiopian wolf.


A few days at Halledeghe, which explores the vast grassland plains by the Afar lands from a mobile camp, would yield uncommon wildlife and outstanding birdlife including Beisa oryx, Grévy's zebra, hyaena, lesser kudu, jackals, Somali ostrich and warthogs, even lion, leopard aardvark and occasionally cheetah.

The magic of Ethiopia must also be the fascinating people with their unique ancient traditions. Nowhere in the world is as well endowed with traditional and tribal cultures than Ethiopia. This is a medieval world, with Christian beliefs and practices little changed in thousands of years.


Grévy's Zebra facts:

  • The Grévy's zebra was named after Jules Grévy, then president of France, who was given one by the government of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the 1880s.
  • Differing from the other zebra species, they have large ears and narrower stripes. They can go without water for up to 5 days.
  • Mostly grazers, they live on grasses and herbaceous plants but during very dry periods they also browse.
  • At birth, a foal’s legs are already almost as long as those of an adult. Within 20 minutes of birth, the zebra is on the run. Zebra can even run at top speeds of almost 40 miles per hour.

If you wish to make a philanthropic donation on International Zebra Day to help fund the conservation of zebra, please do get in touch. We’d also be delighted to discuss the best ways to see Grévy's zebra and other unique endangered wildlife in the wild, which in turn supports local conservation efforts. OR, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so by visiting our Video Library.



Images by kind courtesy of:

Tropic Air, Tropic Air and Richard Roberts, Lengishu House, Ol Jogi and Durston Saylor, Ol Jogi and Jamie Gaymer.

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