Jambo from Kenya!
Jambo! Or “hello” in Swahili! My adventure to Kenya, Africa, began back in November when the St. Louis Zoo requested volunteers to assist with an ongoing research project coordinated by Earthwatch. The focus was the endangered Grevy’s zebra and with assistance from the Minnesota Zoo, I was able to participate.
Few people realize that there are actually three different species of zebra; plains, mountain and Grevy’s. Plains zebra are very common, but the mountain and Grevy’s are considered endangered. In 2003, a field survey estimated that there are only 1,600-2,000 Grevy’s zebras left in the wild and their range has diminished significantly. Only 0.5% of their range is protected and at this rate of decline, it is estimated that the Grevy’s zebra could be extinct in the wild within 50 years!
In March, I joined zookeepers, conservation biologists, researchers and other volunteers on a journey to Kenya. Our time was split between the Lewa Conservancy, a private conservancy protected from livestock and poachers, and an area near Wamba, where livestock is abundant.
Data collection occupied our days and nights. We collected census data (GPS location, sexes, ages, health), behavioral data (time spent grazing, grooming, walking, vigilant), fresh zebra scat to analyze parasite levels, data on vegetation in the areas they were grazing (type of grass, grass height and grass density), and we spent time at watering holes recording which animals were present, the time of day they drank and how long they drank. Information on both plains and Grevy’s zebras was gathered in hopes that researchers can discover why the plains zebra is doing so well while the Grevy’s continues to decline.
Working near the town of Wamba, things got a little more interesting and difficult. Due to the severe drought and abundant livestock, we spent a lot of time driving around (getting flat tires) and looking for, but not finding much, data to collect. The human-animal conflict is more severe in this area since raising livestock is a way of life for the Samburu people. We also were asked to help with research efforts regarding a recent anthrax outbreak in northern Kenya. We collected data on carcasses which will be used to monitor disease problems in the area. It may sound tedious, but all of this data is important and is used to compare differences between protected and unprotected areas as well as determining what affect livestock, and more importantly, people have on wildlife.
Traveling to Africa is an amazing experience, but the most rewarding part was participating in an on-going conservation project that benefits an endangered species and hopefully contributes to future survival.
Thank you to the Minnesota Zoo, the Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Award Program, Earthwatch, Lewa Conservancy, the Northern Rangeland Trust and the African Wildlife Foundation for all the conservation work that they do to protect these amazing animals.