There’s a new effort in Kenya to track and save a particular species of zebra called the Grevy’s zebra.
You can see from this picture, which I was lucky enough to snap in East Africa, that the endangered Grevy’s (foreground) looks different—larger body, bigger ears, tighter stripes— from the more numerous plains zebra (background).
Grevy’s vs. plains: it’s in the stripes. Photo: Vicki Croke
In establishing an inventory of individual animals, conservationists are exploiting the zebras’ naturally occurring barcodes: Each zebra’s striping pattern is unique, like our fingerprints, though a whole lot easier to read from a distance.
According to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, technology may soon make identification even easier: “software is being developed that will allow the stripes of a Grevy’s in a photograph to be read like a barcode and automatically identified.”
Grevy’s are well suited to life in semi-arid climates such as Tsavo, and although they weren’t naturally found here, a total of 50 individuals were introduced to Tsavo in 1964 and 1977. This small population was largely forgotten about until only recently. Today, Marwell Wildlife and their partners, with support from Wildlife Works, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Tsavo Trust and Barbra McNight are monitoring them and building a database.
The latest survey brought good news and bad:
According to the aerial game count conducted in February, the small Tsavo herd is dwindling. Only 26 individuals were counted, mostly outside of Tsavo East National Park in the neighbouring ranches. There are at least two sub-groups with young foals, which is encouraging. They have been spotted both from the air and also from the ground.
You may know the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust through the pioneering work of Daphne Sheldrick, who for decades has worked tirelessly to save orphaned baby elephants and other wildlife.