Grevy’s zebras moved to boost biodiversity

Thursday May 28 2020

Grevy's zebra.

It took six days for a team of veterinarians to successfully move 25 endangered Grevy’s zebras. PHOTO | COURTESY 

SUSAN MUUMBI
By SUSAN MUUMBI
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Some 25 endangered Grevy’s zebras were translocated from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to Sera Wildlife Community Conservancy in northern Kenya, to boost biodiversity in East Africa’s first and only community-run black rhino sanctuary. It took six days for a team of veterinarians to successfully move them, from May 12 to 17.

Kenya holds more than 90 per cent of the global population, with just over 3,000 left in the wild. Their territory covers a few counties in the north of Kenya and just over the border into Ethiopia. They are legally protected in both countries.

“The move highlights the importance of conserving key Grevy’s populations like Lewa’s so that they continue acting as source populations for introducing these animals in new areas or supplementing and invigorating existing small populations genetically,” said David Kimiti, head of Research and Monitoring at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

What is the solution to the long-term conservation of Grevy's zebra? The answer lies with the local communities who have lived with the wildlife for centuries. Without them, conservation efforts will fail.

“We are glad that the exercise went on smoothly and with the tremendous dedication of community members and wildlife experts including the Kenya Wildlife service,” said Anthony Wandera, Northern Rangelands Trust senior research and monitoring officer. Sera Rhino Sanctuary, within the Sera Community Wildlife Conservancy, already hosts 19 Grevy’s zebras.

It is hoped the new additions will diversify the gene pool, lead to increased birth rates, and ultimately help to ensure their long-term survival. There has been a steep decline in population over several decades due to drought and poaching, but recently the numbers have started rising. In the 1970s, there were up to 15,000 in the wild.

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“The long-term survival of Grevy’s zebra will hinge on not only stabilising population declines, but on promoting population growth in northern Kenya, which is their stronghold,” said Ruben Lendira, Sera Community Conservancy manager.

This is the first translocation of Grevy’s zebra to a community protected area. The 107 square-kilometre Sera Rhino Sanctuary, was set up in 2015 by the community, and is home to 16 critically endangered black rhinos and other threatened species.

“In Kenya, Lewa is host to approximately 12 per cent of the total global population. Working with partners to provide expanded safe and secure habitats for them is a win for all of us,” said Geoffrey Chege, head of Conservation & Wildlife at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

The move was a partnership between Sera Community Conservancy, the Northern Rangelands Trust, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, USAid, The Nature Conservancy and Danida.