Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 108 – Grévy’s Zebra


Grevy's zebra

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”
William Blake

Grevy's zebra running with giraffeHow sad it would be to lose the unique Grévy’s zebra from the plains of Africa. It is the rarest and most endangered of all species of zebra, and no other African mammal has seen such dramatic reductions in range as Grévy’s zebra has in recent decades. Being driven from its home by pastoral farmers after being forced to compete with cattle and goats for food and water has been one of the major problems the animals have had to face. Over-grazing has left the land severely degraded.

Furthermore, irrigation schemes surrounding the Ewaso Ng’iro River have seriously depleted water supplies in the past thirty years, “reducing dry season river flow by Grevy's zebra at the watering hole90%” (Williams 2002). This and natural droughts have been significant contributory factors in, not only the deaths of adults, but also the high rate of juvenile mortality (fifty per cent), posing a huge threat to the species. Human disturbance at crucial watering holes is also hastening their decline. Grévy’s zebra are able to live without water for up to five days, but this is their limit and access is then necessary. The distances they are compelled to travel between food and accessible water often prove too much for the foals and many die en route.

Diseases occur, and an outbreak of anthrax between December 2005 and March 2006 killed more than fifty Grévy’s zebra in the Wamba area of Rift Valley Province in central Kenya. Considering their low numbers, this constituted quite a high percentage of the population.

Grevy's zebra grazing In the late 1970s, zebra were extensively hunted for their highly prized skins, medicinal value and subsistence food, which markedly added to the initial reduction in numbers. Since then, hunting has been outlawed, but still persists in some areas; notably in Ethiopia where the laws are not always adhered to. Here the isolated populations are still sought primarily for their hides, occasionally for food and sporadically in connection with traditional healing.

But now much has changed for Grévy’s zebra, and the outlook is beginning to look a little more promising. But their numbers are still few and they may well become extinct in the wild if conservation plans are not successful.  So what is being done!

Grevy's zebra and foal Currently, there are some amazing ongoing projects in existence run by various NGO, including the Grévy’s Zebra Trust, which are doing their utmost to save the species within its own or similar habitat.

This includes involving the local tribes of Kenya. Fourteen years ago, Grévy’s zebra became a conservation flagship species among the pastoral communities of northern Kenya. At this point, indigenous tribes began to take a pride in their wildlife and ceased to be huntsmen and became guardians instead. This was an extraordinary turning point, beneficial to both wildlife and local farmers.

Lioness chasing Hartmann's zebraNot forgetting, the zebra has its fair share of natural predators, too. The Kenya Wildlife Service, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy initiated a plan in 2012 to translocate the Grévy’s zebras, currently distributed thinly across the Ol Pejeta Conservancy,to a predator-free fenced area of seven thousand and four hundred acres. Several are now living safely in this area.  Since lion, leopard, cheetah, etc, take a fairly substantial share of beasts, this too is a heartening step towards enhancing the populations. And, of course, these predators will still have plenty of other natural prey left on their own home ground to choose from. Separating the Grévy’s zebra from the plains zebra, will also eliminate any further problems of hybridisation which have already occurred.

Gevy's rumpsGrévy’s zebra are ridiculously easy to spot out on the plains. They have huge furry ears, large heads and long legs. They are the largest of all wild equids and their stripes are as unique as the human fingerprint. Unlike the plains zebra, who is closely related to the horse, Grévy’s zebra,between its habits and distribution, falls somewhere between the wild asses and other zebras.

Although they have the classic black zebra stripes which form a concentric pattern, in Grévy’s zebra these are notably narrower than those of other species. Foals are born with reddish-brown stripes which Grevy's zebra foal at Whipsnade Zoodarken with maturity. Each adult animal has a characteristic dorsal stripe, black with white either side, and a very discernible brown muzzle. The hogged-like mane and forelock hairs have brown tips, as does the tail, and the underside is gleaming white. 

As far as build goes, Grévy’s zebra are fairly solid animals weighing up to nine hundred pounds. They can be as much as nine feet long and stand almost five and a half feet at the shoulder. Generally speaking, males tend to be about ten per cent larger than females.

They are herd animals, but where there is dominance over breeding females by the leading males, there is rarely aggression. Some males are highly territorial where others are not. Those who are claim prime watering and grazing rights. They are also Grevy's herd solitary, except for mating, and will often remain in their territories during the dry season, whilst other migrate to lusher pastures. The non-territorial males travel together in small bachelor groups of up to eight individuals.  

Socially, Grévy’s zebra do not form stable social units, or harems, such as other species of zebra do. Their social structure consists mainly of females attached to their young and joining large herds of other females and their offspring, and males being attached to their territory or forming bachelor groups. Females are polyandrous and, during the breeding season (they breed once every two years), are capable of visiting up to four territories a day in search of partners.

Grevy's foal Great Plains Zoo, South DakotaThe breeding season takes place in August and September, with births coinciding with the early rains. There is an exceptionally long gestation period of three hundred and ninety days, after which a single foal, weighing eighty to ninety pounds, will be born.

Newborn foals are like newborn ducklings; they will attach themselves to the first thing they see. New mothers instantly protect their young from other approaching mares until they have imprinted their own stripes, scent and sounds on the newborns. The new foal will be able to stand after just six minutes, and run after forty only minutes. It will not be weaned until six to eight months of age and may continue to travel with its mother for the next three years. 

Unfortunately, when very young and left alone in the open whilst their mothers forage for food, foals have a tendency to stand still rather than run away from predators. This is, of course, fatal.

A few extra thoughts…
In 1882, the Emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Menelik II, thought these zebras were rather regal-looking, and as such he gifted one of them to Jules Grévy, the then President of France. The zebra was subsequently accorded its own species and named after him.

Over six hundred Grévy’s zebra are recorded as living in zoos across the world, many in captive breeding programmes where they have bred very successfully, but I have been unable to find any evidence of any of these institutions taking steps to return the animals to the wild. Most seem to be simply kept as tourist attractions. As usual, comments are most welcome.

Grevy's zebra distributionNatural Habitat
Arid and semi-arid grass and shrubland, and dry acacia savannah; all within range of permanent water.
Where
Northern Kenya and southern and eastern Ethiopia.
What they eat
Grasses and forbs, and leaves in the dry season.
Threats
Habitat loss through over-grazing, competition for food and water, drought, hybridisation, disease and illegal hunting for meat, hides and Traditional medicine. Natural predators include lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah.
Status: Endangered
Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Although the population is thought to be stable, only two and a half thousand or so remain with over six hundred of the species being kept in captivity.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya holds three hundred and seventy individuals constituting fifteen per cent of the entire population.
The species is protected by law in Ethiopia.  In Kenya, where ninety per cent of the populations live, hunting has been banned since 1977 and Grévy’s zebra is being elevated from ‘Game Animal’ to ‘Protected Animal’.
Conservation projects exist in both countries focusing on better management of protected areas, protection of water supplies, community involvement and monitoring of wild population numbers.

Here are just a few worthwhile and informative articles about the current status and conservation efforts on behalf of Grévy’s zebra.
Novel Strategies Save Both Endangered Grévy’s Zebras and Cattle Ranchers 
Grévy’s Zebra Trust
Grévy’s zebra – Fragile flagship of community conservation 
Our solutions to protecting the Grévy’s zebra 

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 46 – The African Wild Ass


Somali  wild ass and foal

Source: Zooborns

Description
The African wild ass is a highly endangered equidae.  Numbers have decreased by ninety per cent in the past two decades.  And, like so many other poor unfortunates, the wild ass is hunted for, here we go again, traditional medicine.  Amongst other things, its bones are boiled up to make a cure-all soup for the heartless and ill-informed.

The ancestor of all domestic donkeys, the species was domesticated about six thousand years ago.  It’s hard to enter any country without seeing a domesticated donkey somewhere, yet only a few hundred of their wild ancestors are still in existence.

African wild asses have a smooth coat, which varies from light grey to fawn becoming white on the undersides and legs.  Most have a dark stripe along the back and the Somalian subspecies has black horizontal stripes on its legs.  They all have a stiff, upright mane.  They can reach a height of five and a half feet  (16.2)  at the shoulder and are about six and a half feet in length.

The species is crepuscular, feeding during twilight hours when the temperatures are lower.  The day is spend resting in the shade of the rocky hills.  They are fast and sure-footed over the rough terrain, and can reach speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.

Although well-adapted to the arid climate, they do need surface water.  Most stay permanently within twenty miles of water.  Moisture is extracted from the vegetation they consume.  They can survive with very little liquid, but need to drink at least once every three days, and lactating females need to drink every day.  Therefore a surface water supply is essential to them.  Unfortunately, access to water (and food) is often limited due to competition with livestock.

African wild asses live in small herds, typically consisting of fewer than five animals.  Only the mother and her foal form long-term relationships.  Following mating, the gestation period is relatively long; eleven to twelve months.  Usually, only one foal is born.  The foal will be weaned at six to eight months, and reach sexual maturity at two years.

Habitat
Rocky deserts, arid and semi-arid bushlands and grasslands, where there is access to surface water.
Where
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
What they eat
Grasses, bark and leaves.
Threats
Hunting for food and traditional medicine.  Competition from domestic livestock for food and water supplies.  Interbreeding between wild and domestic donkeys, resulting in hybridisation.
Status: Critically Endangered
The African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  Fewer than five hundred and seventy individuals are thought to still exist, the least number being in Somalia.  The species is protected by law in Somalia and Ethiopia, but, these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still goes on.  The use of automatic weapons is common in some areas.
African wild asses are kept in captivity around the world and breeding programs do exist. These have been very successful and births have occurred.  Indeed, the image above portrays a foal named Hakaba, born in 2010 at the Basel Zoo, Switzerland.  It is unclear, though, whether any of these animals will ever be returned to their natural environment.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
Aristotle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 43 – The Ethiopian Wolf


Ethiopian wolf and cub

Source: Born Free Photos

Description
Also known by a whole array of others names, including Abyssinian wolf, Simien fox and Simien jackal, this species has the dubious honour of being the rarest canid in the world. It is the only wolf species to be found in Africa, and can only be found in a handful of scattered areas in the Ethiopian Highlands.  For those who favour wolves, this is a species well worth getting to know.

Personally, I find these fox-like wolves rather beautiful.  With their long, elegant legs, slender bodies and necks, deep red fur (the females are the slightly paler ones) with contrasting black and white markings, they are undoubtedly striking, and most certainly very photogenic.  That gorgeous coat is very practical from the wolf’s point of view.  It has an insulated undercoat to protect it against the cold, in temperatures as low as minus -15 degrees centigrade.  For added warmth they hide their faces beneath their bushy tails when resting.  On average males weigh about 16 kilos and females just under 13. They are about the same size as a coyote.  Their front feet have five toes and their hind feet have four.  I have yet to find out why this is.

Ethiopian wolves tend to be mostly lone hunters.  Their prey is so small there is not enough to share.  They do, however, join forces when hunting larger species such as antelope.  As their prey is active during the day, so are they.   They are very much pack animals when it comes to other everyday living.  At dawn and dusk, they patrol the boundaries en masse;  and socialise and sleep as such too.  They sleep together, curled up in a ball, out in the open.  Male wolves rarely leave the pack, but females tend to wander off at two years of age in search of other opportunities.

This species is very vocal.  There are huffs, yelps, barks, growls, whines and group yip howls.  The howls can be heard over five kilometres away.

There is no social hierarchy amongst these wolves when it comes to mating.  Bit of a free-for-all really.  The mating season is between August and November.  After a gestation period of about sixty days, a litter of pups, numbering between two and six, will be born. Although the adults sleep in the open, when the cubs are born, the mother digs a hole, usually beneath a large rock or inside a crevice, to shelter her pups.  The pups are born with their eyes closed and have no teeth.  The den will be moved several times before the pups are ready to experience the outside world.

Habitat
Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands at altitudes above 3,000 metres.
Where
The Bale and Simien Mountain ranges of Ethiopia.
What they eat
Rodents make up nearly 96 percent of all their prey – big-headed mole rats,  black-clawed brush-furred rats and  grass rats.  Highland hare is sometimes on the menu too, along with birds, eggs, and occasionally carrion.
Threats
Habitat loss and fragmentation, over grazing of livestock, road construction, persecution, confrontation and hybridisation with domestic dogs, and diseases from domestic dogs (rabies, distemper and parvovirus).  Most of these threats are related to the Oromo people who live in close proximity to the wolves in the Bale Mountains National Park .
Status: Endangered
The Ethiopian wolf  (Canis simensis)  is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  Less than five hundred mature individuals are thought to remain in existence.  The species is protected from hunting under Ethiopian law.   A vaccination programme is in place to curb diseases, in particular rabies which decimated populations in both 1991 and 2003.   Steps are also being taken to prevent cross-breeding with domestic dogs.
The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has undertaken:  [1]
• To assess, address and counteract threats to the survival of Ethiopian wolves.
• To secure the conservation of Afroalpine biodiversity and ecological processes.
• To strengthen Ethiopia’s environmental sector, particularly biodiversity conservation.

”The quicker we humans learn that saving open space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and quality of life, maybe we’ll start thinking of doing something about it.”
Jim Fowler