What is happening to the Grevy’s zebras in Kenya?
The Grevy’s zebra is one of the most beautiful animals in Kenya. It is found in Kenya and Ethiopia. Grevy’s zebra is named after Jules Grevy who was the president of France in the 1880s. It is also the largest of the three species of zebra. It is tall and has large ears and a brown muzzle. But compared with other zebras its stripes are narrower. The unique thing about Grevy’s zebras is the lack of stripes on its belly. But their long-term survival is moot. Because Grevy’s zebras’ skin fetches a high price. So they are mainly killed for their skins. But the authorities banned hunting in 1977. Today the main threat is habitat loss.
Sadly their population has dropped since the 1970s. Its numbers have declined from 15,000 to 3,000 in a matter of decades. That is a 75% drop. Out of the 3000, around 600 are in captivity. There are 2,350 of them in Kenya alone. Today Grevy’s zebra belongs to the endangered species. So the wildlife authorities have taken the matter into their hands. They have taken some serious conservation initiatives. These actions have improved the status of Grevy’s zebras. However, there do face challenges. Laikipia and Borana are the names of two game parks in Kenya. They are home to the largest Grevy’s zebras. So let us take a visit to these game parks and see how the Grevy’s zebras are faring.
Laikipia County is one of the 47 counties of Kenya. It is in the northern part of the country. It is just a three hours’ drive from Nairobi. The County is on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. It is one of the country’s most important and protected wildlife areas. It is the most famous stronghold of wildlife outside the country’s national parks and reserves. People from all over the world visit Laikipia to witness some rare animals in the world. But invasions from neighbors scares away the animals. Attacks are becoming more and more menacing. Therefore residents are having a tough time dealing with it.
Recently around 10,000 nomadic herders have indiscriminately killed wildlife. They have killed hundreds of wild animals. That includes the Grevy’s zebras. The invaders were from nearby Pokot, Isiolo, Baringo and Samburu communities. According to some reports around 135,000 cattle invaded the wildlife habitats. And they are increasingly becoming a threat to these animals. The animals get in the way of shooting. Six elephants have been killed. A buffalo has been skinned. Fire scares away the wild animals. Most of the animals are among Kenya’s rare species. In conclusion, the herders have wreaked havoc.
They have invaded and torched farm buildings. The encroachers set fires to farms. They destroyed crops. They drove hundreds and thousands of cattle into private properties, conservancies, and smallholdings owned by farmers in Laikipia. Properties have been destroyed and looted. Three lodges have been closed down. The invaders even burnt down one of the game lodge, the Suyian lodge. The last ranch they attacked was the Mugie Conservancy. They broke its fences and stole kilometers of wires. The Mugie cattle business is on the verge of closing down. In the aftermath tribespeople left a trail of chaos and destruction in the County.
The herders come armed with automatic rifles, firearms, and crude weapons. They use brutal force to attack. They shoot ranch workers. According to reports, as a result, incursions left several residents severely injured and five to ten people dead. Consequently, this spreads fear among residents. Ranch owners are moving guests, staff, and cattle. There has been a series of raids since 2013 between the perpetrators and residents of Laikipia. However, this is the latest and most serious clash between the herders and residents of Laikipia. There have been protests by residents. Tension is high in the area.
The encroachers shoot and loot at will. They invade without any fear. It has left behind a trail of destruction. The effects of the invasions are felt beyond the region. The impact has spilled over into other areas. It is time to address the invasions. Water scarcity and grazing land seem to be the cause of the conflict. But reasons for the invasions vary. The press reports that the recent drought brings about the encroachments. Residents believe that the tribal politicians use it as a political ploy to win the upcoming election. And the commercial farmers believe they are a result of poor management by the Park authorities.
Is there a link between the drought and invasions? Drought alerts have been issued for 11 counties. Around this area alone drought has affected 1.3 million people. The media links the invasions to the recent drought. The herders are in search of water and pasture for their cattle. Also, severe drought has brought on crop failure, and this has triggered fear of starvation. So the herders invade wildlife habitats and private land wanting to secure enough lush grazing lands for their cattle. Hence there is tension between the herders and farm owners.
- Political ploy
Not all believe that the herders are just looking for water for their cattle. So many believe the problem is the underlining political tensions. The tensions are due in part to the geographic and ethnic diversity of the area. Land invasions are the latest expression of these tensions, and they peak closer to the election. It has to do with power and politics. People are using the land issue to win support. Greed for money fuels ranch invasions. Laikipia straddles the racial divide between tribes who support and oppose the government. Therefore, they see it as a political ploy to attack rival tribes.
- Poor management
Commercial farmers blame the destruction of once fertile pastures on overgrazing. Overgrazing has rendered the grasslands of Laikipia’s neighboring communities untenable. Maintenance of overgrazed land is nil due to poor management of authorities. The community leaders get aid money to maintain the grasslands. But they do not spend it wisely. Neither are they skilled at it. Too much livestock and too many people are scrambling for the depleting natural resources. The inefficiency and irresponsibility of the management make the situation worse.
Impact on Grevy’s Zebra in Laikipia
Laikipia is home to Grevy’s zebra. It is one of the endangered species of zebras. Grevy’s zebras have been greatly affected by the chaos. The invasions have caused the deaths of more than 30 Grevy’s zebras. Graphic photos of a decapitated zebra have been doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and other social media outlets. It is a by-product of the violence. The loss of Grevy’s zebras’ is a sad affair. One large wildlife conservancy had to cancel millions of pounds’ worth of investment. They feared the future of its wildlife.
Poaching pose a threat too
Space for Giants is a conservation organization headquartered in Laikipia. They reckon that some of the hunters have links to poaching networks. These networks are supported by powerful politicians and they take advantage of the herders’ invasions. Independent investigations conducted by the Daily Nation revealed that this could advance their illegal trade. And they continually identify and exploit loopholes in the security operations within Laikipia for their selfish gain. Poaching could lead to the extinction of the already vulnerable Grevy’s zebras. Grevy’s zebras are poached for their lovely skin.
Residents at Laikipia have urged the government to protect inhabitants from invasion. As a result, the leaders cautioned the pastoralists saying it is not only illegal but also a violation of the dwellers’ rights. Moreover, President Kenyatta has ordered all invaders to leave the Laikipia ranches. But apart from such lip service no other action or initiatives have been forthcoming from the government. However, the most disheartening part is that there seems to be no policy in place to deal with the herders. Probably, some politicians are behind it because these skirmishes only recur as elections approach.
Borana Conservancy is a natural beauty situated in a rugged savannah across a 90,000-acre landscape. While snow-capped peaks lie to the south, a panorama of mountains lies to the north. It is a hidden gem known for its megafauna and its newly opened Arijiju. It is home to more than 300 bird species and more than 50 indigenous tree families. Guests to this charismatic place enjoy trail running, treetop canopy and horseback riding. Borana Rangers can arrange traditional game drives for wildlife tracking. It also offers fly-fishing excursions to Mount Kenya. Its three private houses and a lodge offer once in a lifetime experience for discerning travelers. It is also home to both the Maasai and the Samburu tribes.
Impact on Grevy’s Zebra in Borana
Borana is one of the few places where you can see Grevy’s zebras. It has one of the largest populations of Grevy’s zebras. In 2014, authorities removed the fence separating Borana and the nearby Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. It benefitted these critically endangered animals. Other conservation initiatives on the property have also made Borana a safe refuge for the threatened species. Kenya Wildlife Service, the local communities, and Kenya government has collaborated to carry out conservation initiatives. The projects have turned out to be very successful. The successful collaboration between them has now made it a secure home for the Grevy’s zebras.
New York Times endorsement
New York Times is one of the most popular and widely circulated newspapers in the world. Recently Borana Conservancy got a facelift by the New York Times. It stated that Borana is one of its top 52 tourist destinations for 2017. It was not only a privilege but also an honor to have recognized the Borana Conservancy. The other destinations mentioned alongside were Botswana, Canada, Marrakesh, Stockholm, and Madrid. Compared to these word class cities Borana may be a rugged place. But it still has its natural beauty.
We have seen the impact of Grevy’s zebra’s population in Laikipia and Borana. In Laikipia their existence is threatened by human intervention. Whereas in Borana they enjoy a comfortable co-existence with people. It is time to stop invasions and poaching and conserve Grevy’s zebra before they go extinct.