The Grevy’s Zebra is not only the largest and most threatened of the 3 zebra species, but it is also the largest living wild equid, which is another fancy way of saying a mammal of the horse family. The other two are the plains zebra and the mountain zebra.
Compared to its cousins, the Grevy’s Zebra is taller, has larger ears and its stripes are narrower. It does not like living in harems like the others and has few long-lasting social bonds. Very typical of a monarch, no wonder it is also known as the imperial zebra.
That is not to say the Grevy’s Zebra is not a survivor when push comes to shove. It has been known to stay for up to 5 days without water. Living in largely semi-arid grasslands, it is found in Kenya and Ethiopia where it feeds on grasses and legumes.
The Grevy’s Zebra was first described by the French naturalist, Émile Oustalet, in 1882. He named it after Jules Grévy, then president of France. Jules already had a Grévy’s which he had received from the government of Abyssinia as a gift.
Maybe Oustalet found it fitting to name the zebra after the president as a tribute to him. Whatever the reason, this presidential gifting caused the Grévy’s to be recognised as its own species.
Incidentally, Jules was not the only leader to be gifted with a Grévy’s. In the 17th century, the king of Shoa, now central Ethiopia, gave one to the Sultan of Turkey. He also gave another to the Dutch governor of Jakarta.
The Grevy’s Zebra, with an estimated population, in 2018, of 2,812 in Kenya and 230 in Ethiopia, is considered endangered. Back in the 1970s, the numbers stood at 15,000. By the turn of the 21st century, the population had declined by 75%.
In Kenya, a number of initiatives are trying to save what remains of this beautiful creature, including regularly monitoring populations. Actually, the first-ever national Grevy’s Zebra census dubbed the ‘Great Grevy’s Rally’ was conducted in 2016.
The census aimed to establish current zebra populations. Over 350 people, including conservancy managers, conservation organisations, government officials, research scientists and members of the public took part.
A total of 6,177,625 acres across five counties were covered in the two-day exercise held between the 30th and 31st of January. The teams drove through designated sampling blocks while photographing the right side of each individual Grevy’s Zebra observed with a GPS-enabled digital camera.
The Image Based Ecological Information System (IBEIS) team in the USA processed over 40,000 images taken. In the process, individual zebra were identified and mapped using their GPS locations.
Using this technique, it was possible to establish population and age structure by region. When the results came out, the numbers were stabilising and all was well in the wild for the imperial zebra. Maybe soon, they will be fit for monarchs again.