Counting Zebras, Dodging Elephants

About the Author

Paul Thomson worked with African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi for a year before moving to Washington D.C. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul… More

Juma was telling me about the movements of Grevy’s during different seasons when we heard the loud crack of wood somewhere in the thick bush ahead. He stopped and was silent. We heard another branch snap and he turned around and mouthed the word “elephant!” We spun on our heels, retreated back a bit, and chose a new path around the unseen elephant. The last thing we wanted was to stumble upon an unsuspecting elephant in the thick thorn bushes.

Counting Grevy's with Juma, a scout from West Gate Conservancy.

I was with Juma, a game scout from West Gate Conservancy, and Jessica, a volunteer from South Africa, walking a 4 km transect to get a sample count of Grevy’s zebras. Six other small transect teams were scattered throughout the Conservancy as part of Dr. Paul Muroria’s research to monitor the population of this endangered zebra in Kenya, its last stronghold.

Avoiding the elephant provided some excitement and turned out to be opportune: once we were back on our transect, we spotted a large group of Grevy’s, heads held high watching us alertly. We took the coordinates, the bearing, and counted the group: 38 in total, with several foals.

With an unknown total population (Dr. Muoria estimates there are between only 2,000-2,500 left), each Grevy’s foal seems like a bit of hope. Some believe the population remains low because the foals have a high mortality rate. Could the population be declining because foals are dying off? Dr. Muoria is testing whether the presence of livestock and people affect feeding/nursing rates of the foals.

Dr. Paul Muoria taking data on Grevy's zebra behavior.

Next month, if all goes according to plan, Dr. Muoria will participate in a national Grevy’s zebra census – a large-scale effort by several Grevy’s stakeholders to figure out how many zebras remain in Kenya. Also next month, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will launch the Nation Conservation Strategy for the Grevy’s Zebra.

These mark substantial steps for Grevy’s conservation in Kenya. Dr. Muoria’s research is providing valuable data but more can be done, he thinks. He says he needs additional equipment for his community scouts who are the eyes and ears on the ground. They lack range finders, binoculars, and more GPS units. If you’d like to help, and support Grevy’s conservation in Kenya, click here.

Grevy's zebra mare and foal.