Zebra

There are three species of zebra: plains, mountain and Grevy's.

Their stripes come in different patterns, unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small to large herds and can be found in a vast range of habitats from grassland to mountains.

The plains zebra and the mountain zebra belong to the subgenus Hippotigris.  Burchell's, Grant's and Chapman's Zebra are all subspecies of the Plains Zebra along with the Quagga.  The Quagga became extinct in the late 19th Century although the Quagga Project hopes to breed zebra which are phenotypically similar.

Cape and Hartmann's are subspecies of the Mountain Zebra. 

The Grévy's zebra is the largest, the most rare and is the sole species of subgenus Dolichohippus.

All three, plains, mountain and Grevy's Zebra,  belong to the genus Equus, along with other living equids. They have excellent eyesight, including night vision and a wide field of view and acute hearing with larger and rounder ears than horses. They also have an acute sense of smell and taste. Zebra sleep standing up and communicate via a series of high pitched barks and whinnies.

Both the Grevy's Zebra and Mountain Zebra are endangered. 

Grevy's Zebra in more detail

Grevy's Zebra weigh between 350-450 kgs - and were the first of the zebra species to evolve after asses. They are taller than the plains zebra, with narrower stripes, a white belly, a black dorsal stripe, large rounded ears and a brown muzzle. They are highly adapted to semi-arid and arid habitats, while the plains zebra is more suited to lusher habitat with abundant water. 

Grevy's Zebra are legally protected in Ethiopia and since 1977 they have been protected by a hunting ban in Kenya. 

In the late 1970's there were an estimated 15,000 Grevy's zebra in the wild. Today fewer than 2,800 remain. The Grevy's zebra has suffered one of the most drastic population declines of any African mammal, due to climate change, habitat loss and competition with livestock. 

Grevy's zebra occupy the niche between the water-dependent plains zebra, and the arid-adapted wild ass. Its home range now primarily consists of northern Kenya and parts of southern and north-eastern Ethiopia. They are predominantly grazers, and can survive off poor quality grass much better than their plains zebra cousins, however during extremely dry periods they also browse. Grevy's zebra can go without water for up to five days, but females with young foals must drink at least every other day. With land degradation worsening each year, the distance between available grazing and water increases. This means that Grevy's zebra mothers have to make long and more frequent journeys, resulting in high foal mortality, which is one of the major threats to the survival of the species.

Breeding stallions reign over territories of up to 10 square kilometres, which they establish based on water availability and grazing. Depending on her breeding condition, a female has different resource requirements. When she is lactating, she needs to be closer to water and therefore those males who have water within their territory will be more successful at breeding. Grevy's zebra males who haven't yet reached breeding age hang out in bachelor groups. Only if females are not in breeding season within a territory, will the bachelors be tolerated by the dominant territorial male. A territorial male can keep his territory for up to seven years before he will be defeated by a younger, stronger bachelor male. Males mark the boundaries of their territories known by vocalising loudly and by creating dung piles which they mark regularly to let everyone know they are present.

Gestation in Grevy's lasts for 13 months. Births are usually timed with the onset of rains, with peaks observed in May/June (long rains) and November/December (short rains). When resources become scarce with a resulting drop in body condition, females may not come into oestrus.

Thanks to the Grevy's Zebra Trust for the information about Grevy's Zebra.

The Great Grevy's Rally

The second Great Grevy's Rally takes place on the 27th and 28th January 2018 and is a national census of Grevy's Zebra as well as reticulated giraffe. The census will take place in Laikipia, Isiolo, Samburu and Marsabit. 

The first Great Grevy's Rally was successfully completed on the 30th and 31st of January 2016. 118 teams comprising of more than 500 people drove over 25,000 square kilometers in four counties to census the Grevy’s zebra – one of the most endangered mammals on the planet!  This year to add to the excitement, effectiveness and reach of the rally, volunteers will also be counting the threatened reticulated giraffe.  The census teams are made up of citizen scientists, conservationists, national and county governments, KWS, scientists, local conservancies and partners and NGO’s who will be photographing the right side of the Grevy's Zebras with GPS enabled equipment.

Using sophisticated stripe recognition software to analyze the number of sighted and re-sighted individuals over two consecutive days, the population size of Grevy’s zebras in northern Kenya will be estimated.  This methodology will also provide insights on the age and sex structure of the Grevy’s zebra population in each area to assess whether or not the overall Grevy’s zebra population is stable, growing or decreasing. The population estimate and distribution determined by the GGR will inform future conservation and management initiatives. It will be interesting to see how the 2016/2017 drought which badly affected Laikipia has impacted on zebra numbers.

You can find out more about the rally and the work of the Grevy's Zebra Trust here.

If you would like to see these wonderful mammals in the wild, we recommend a safari to Kenya, to include a stay in Laikipia or Samburu. We've seen Grevy's Zebra in good numbers at Lewa and Borana and also from Saruni Samburu in Kalama Conservancy and Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu iself where Grevy's zebra is one of the 'Special Five' (Grevy's Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Somali Ostrich, Gerenuk and Baisy Oryx). Click here for inspiration.

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