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November 19, 2018

Join world’s first public Grevy's Zebra census

Plains zebra (left) and Grevy's zebras (right)
Plains zebra (left) and Grevy's zebras (right)

If you can travel to Laikipia at the end of this month, there is a chance to join in the world’s first ever public census of the endangered Grevy’s Zebra.

Dubbed the Great Grevy Zebra Rally, the counting will take place across Isiolo, Samburu and Marsabit counties, where the zebras live.

The Grevy’s Zebra population has plummeted from an estimated 15,000 in the early 1980s to the estimated 2,500 left in Kenya today. A few others reside in Ethiopia.

“This zebra is one of the most beautiful and endangered large mammals in Kenya today ­— and emblematic of the rangelands/drylands north of Mt Kenya,” says Dr Dino Martins, the executive director of Mpala Research Centre, who are among the organisers.

Compared with other zebras, the Grevy is tall, has large ears, and its stripes are narrower, and it can go for five days without water.

This is the second time in Kenya “citizen science” will be used to count the number of an animal species. Fifty vehicle teams of citizen scientists will be assigned an area and they will be asked to photograph every Grevy’s zebra they see, using GPS enabled cameras on January 30 and 31.

Prof Dan Rubenstein of Princeton University, one of the world’s leading expert on zebras, said the photos will be analysed on February 1 using a sophisticated stripe recognition software called the Individual Based Ecological Information System (IBEIS).

The software will identify the individual zebra and its age and sex, and will record the observational time and location.

The IBEIS results will estimate the size of the Grevy’s zebra population throughout Kenya.

“Repeated observations enables accurate population estimates through a simple sight-­resight’ method, a form of non-­invasive ‘mark-­recapture’. However, thousands of photographs are required,” he said.

Registration is ongoing at www.greatgrevysrally.com.

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