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Conservation of Grevy’s Zebra

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The Grevy’s zebra, Equus grevyi, is the largest of the equids as well as the most critically endangered. This was one of my target species that I wanted to observe and photograph during my recent trip to Kenya. To do so I had to travel into northern Kenya to see the Lewa Conservancy, a conservancy that deserves a post of its own which will be a topic I work on after this, and the Il Ngwesi group ranch. I had feared that this species may be hard to find as there are so few of them left in the world. However, Lewa is home to one of the largest populations of this species and we managed to find a small herd of them shortly after leaving the airstrip.

The Grevy’s zebra is an interesting creature which looks like a cross between the plains zebra, Equus burchellii, and the wild ass, Equus hemionus. In fact, they fill a narrow ecological niche between the wild ass, which is more desert adapted, and the plains zebra, which is heavily dependent on water (Estes 2012). During dry seasons the Grevy’s will migrate to better-watered highlands. However, this species is not overly limited by food. It can eat grasses you tough for cattle and when these are gone it will shift to browsing. Without the need to find better grazing as long as water is available it will not migrate. They have even been known to dig waterholes in stream beds which they fiercely defend rather than migrate (Estes 2012).

Grevy's Zebra

Grevy’s Zebra

These zebras are highly territorial. Stallions maintain dung middens to mark the boundaries of their territory. A stallion will not tolerate the presence of another dominant male in his territory when a female is in estrous, although subordinate males are still allowed within the territory but at a distance from the dominant stallions females. However, the territorial stallion will often mingle with subordinate bachelors and even other territorial males when the females are not in estrous (Estes 2012). Females will breed as young as 3 years old but stallions never before the age of 6. The foals become more independent after 6 months but still follow their mother up to 3 years. When females are forced to travel during droughts they often leave their young unguarded or in a crèche (Estes 2012). Lacking the instinct to hide, the foals just stand around as easy prey for any predator in the area.

Historically this species ranged throughout most of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. With only 750 mature individuals left, and only 2,000 total including juveniles, this species is almost entirely restricted to the Laikipia region of Northern Kenya (Moehlman 2013). As of 2010 the Ethiopian population was estimated around 126 individuals, a 90% decrease from the 1,900 estimated in 1980, and the species has been extinct in Somalia since 1973 (Hollingshead 2010).

Grevy's grazing

Grevy’s grazing

In Kenya it was believed that hunting for skins was a large part of the decline of this species throughout the 1970s. However, even after the closing of all big game hunting in the late 70s this species has continued to sharply decline. More recent data suggests that possibly the biggest factor in the decline is low juvenile recruitment, that is to say that very few of their offspring are surviving to adulthood, due to competition with pastoral people and livestock for access to food and water (Moehlman 2013).

There are many efforts in place now to save this unique species. They are a CITES Appendix I species and are being upgraded to the designation of “protected animal” in Kenya. Kenya has taken steps to create a national conservation strategy. The aforementioned Lewa Conservancy has been a shining example of the dedication of Kenyan’s to saving this iconic species.

Literature Cited

Estes, R.D. 2012. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. 240-242. Print.

Hollingshead, A. 2010. “Equus grevyi” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 30, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Equus_grevyi/

Moehlman, P.D., Rubenstein, D.I. & Kebede, F. 2013. Equus grevyi. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 30 August 2013.

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See Spot Run: A discussion of cheetahs and cheetah conservation

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When I first visited Africa in July of 2009 the cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, was the first species I saw and photographed. Although it was in a cheetah center rather than in the wild this species will always be special to me as it was like an ambassador, welcoming me to the continent where I feel most at home. While the lion is still my favorite the cheetah is a close second. It was not until my fourth trip back to Africa that I was able to once again see these magnificent animals and photograph them in the wild.

Cheetahs are the most specialized of the world’s big cats, essentially the feline version of a greyhound. These amazing cats have traded strength for incredible speed, reaching speeds of 90-112 kph (60-70 mph). Though they are incredibly fast they lack both stamina and the strength of their felid relatives. Their jaws are fairly weak and lack the major canine teeth of other cats. Without the strength of other predators they are easily run off of their kills. While in Tanzania’s  Tarangire National Park I witnessed a pair of cheetahs that had been run off of a warthog kill by vultures. It is very likely that the cheetahs fled the kill out of fear of the vultures attracting larger competition rather than by the vultures themselves. As for stamina they can only maintain their speed for a short distance, prey must be overtaken within 300 yards, before they need to cool down. In fact a cheetah can cause itself to overheat if it tries to run for too long.

South Africa 2009 024

While predominantly solitary creatures cheetahs, mainly males, have been known to form coalitions. Males usually disperse and defend their own territories, but some litter mates have been known to stay together. The benefits of forming coalitions seems less obvious than in the case of lions. Females are solitary and wander amongst male territories. Having a coalition would not increase the likelihood of being visited by a receptive female. Single males would have a better chance of mating as they would not have to compete with a companion male for the right to copulate. The only benefit these males may receive is in hunting as having a companion would allow them to drag down larger prey.

Cheetahs that are actively hunting walk along alertly and will use termite mounds and low hanging tree limbs as vantage points. To get within range of prey the cheetah may wait at the vantage point if it sees prey grazing towards it or attempt a stalk. Some stalks are unsuccessful and do not result in a chase, but those that do result in chases are successful roughly 50% of the time. Serengeti cheetahs lose roughly 10% of their successful kills to other predators. However, females with cubs will occasionally try to defend these kills against hyenas and wild dogs, but will quickly yield to larger competitors such as lions.

South Africa 2009 025-2

While cheetahs are fascinating creatures they face serious threats. Once widespread across Africa and into southern India cheetahs have now become severely limited in range. In the 1950s they became extinct in India and are now very rare throughout North Africa. They are still wide spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa but very sparsely distributed. To make matters worse a series of genetic bottle necks have led modern cheetahs to be over 90% similar in genetic make up. This degree of genetic uniformity means that one disease could possibly devastate cheetah populations and quite possibly push cheetahs into total extinction.

There is a glimmer of hope though as many organizations throughout the world are working tirelessly to save cheetahs. The De Wildt Cheetah Centre in South Africa works to relocate cheetahs captured near ranches to areas where they will not run into conflicts with humans. This centre, where I saw my first cheetah, also has an ambassador program in which they teach humans that cheetahs are not a major threat to livestock and attempt to foster good relations between ranchers and this species of cat.

South Africa 2009 053

Back in the US at Texas A&M is another project which may benefit cheetahs. A professor there has been working mainly with bison, another species that has a severely limited genome, to collect DNA from hides taken prior to the genetic bottleneck the species went through. It is hoped that this genetic information can be spliced into modern bison and add more diversity back to their genetic code. In theory, this professor could do the same thing with cheetahs to hopefully provide them with enough genetic diversity to survive a disease that otherwise might wipe them out.

Cheetahs are an amazing species that have captured my heart. It took me three additional trips to Africa to finally catch glimpses of them in the wild, but the effort was well worth it as my latest trip provided three new cheetah sightings for a total of 6 cheetahs (one pair in Tarangire, a coalition of three in the Serengeti, and a solitary cheetah spotted a few hours after the coalition). It would be a great tragedy if we let this species slip out of existence. Fortunately there are many great people working to make sure this does not happen.

Incredible Technology: How to Bring Extinct Animals Back to Life – Yahoo! News

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Incredible Technology: How to Bring Extinct Animals Back to Life – Yahoo! News.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights

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A friend of mine posted this recently and I thought it would appropriate to share here.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights
17 Sep 2012

The debate on animal rights vs conservation has seen a third contender rising from the ashes – human rights.

In reaction to an article in last week’s Pot-Shot, reader “Johan” posed the question whether some people “would rather support saving rhinos than helping an orphaned human life”. It is fine to look after animals, but “not neglect

ing our accountability in looking after each other.”Tanya Jacobsen, campaign manager of RhinoDotCom, says animal rights vs conservation “emerges as a ‘war’ between the two schools of thought and one that has degenerated to aggression, violence, disrespect and blatant hatred. We would like to clarify some aspects of the main concepts.

Essentially, the two views are literally worlds apart with Animal Welfare featuring somewhere in between:

The Wildlife Society maintains that anyone who has an understanding of social issues in Africa will know that Animal Rights principles simply cannot work here. Where it has been attempted to a large degree, for example in Kenya, it has failed miserably and many of the local people’s livelihoods have been severely negatively affected. This in turn led to disastrous consequences for indigenous wildlife.

Regarding SA’s rhino situation, :calls against legal trade in horn and rhino farming are often heard from various groups and individuals, based on animal rights principles. We respond as follows:

“Our rhinos have the right to be worth more alive than dead. They have the right not to be brutally and indiscriminately slaughtered for their horn when we can keep them healthy and happy and provide their horn to those who want it, without having to harm the animals.

“Our rhinos have the right to be protected by us.

“They have the right to breed and live in safety.

“They have the right to be afforded any measure, as long as it is not cruel, that will save them from joining the ranks of the many species that have already gone extinct, due to the unwise, misguided and ill-informed practices of humans. “

An interesting write-up on Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare has been posted here: http://www.ncraoa.com/AR_VS_AW.html. A great amount of detail and statistics are offered on this website to enhance knowledge by questioning and cross-referencing data.

An opposing viewpoint by Animal Rights Africa (ARA) is offered here: http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/EthicalConservation.php
ARA uses extreme language to denounce people who promote sustainable use, saying that “it is elements within the WUM that consistently resort to violence, including murder, to achieve their objectives. And, all too often, ethical environmentalists and animal rightists are the victims of this violence.”

They involve politics in their arguments, alleging that: “Sustainable utilisation is also a smokescreen, used by recreational animal-killers and others who, for reasons of political expediency, job security or greed, wish to win favour with human communities and populations that were previously oppressed under apartheid or colonialist rule, and who now hold the fate of wildlife and environmental conservation in their hands.”

In the book, Game Changer, award-winning environmental reporter Glen Martin finds that the policies championed by animal welfare groups could lead paradoxically to the elimination of the very species – including elephants and lions – that are the most cherished. Martin revisits the debate between conservationists, who believe that people whose lives are directly impacted by the creation of national parks and preserves should be compensated, versus those who believe that restrictive protection that forbids hunting is the most effective way to conserve wildlife and habitats.

Focusing on the different approaches taken by Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia, Martin vividly shows how the world’s last great populations of wildlife have become the hostages in a fight between those who love animals and those who would save them.

Martin builds a convincing case… But the real value of Martin’s book is in showing how hard it is to find any conservation strategy that works in the complex reality of today’s Africa… Walking the fine line between unregulated killing and managed hunting will not be easy, it may be the only hope for Africa’s wild creatures. Martin emphasises that measures such as ecotourism and protection for iconic species have backfired dramatically.

Read more on this subject by clicking the Kalahari link here.

• It seems that sustainable hunting takes humans into account, while ARA and its ilk seem to claim to the idea that animals should be conserved in their natural state without taking into account human needs, especially in Africa that is plagued by poverty and the lack of employment opportunities. – Editor

Wildlife Conservation Society officials measure the size of an adult male elephant during a collaring exercise in a remote area of South Sudan | View photo – Yahoo! News

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Wildlife Conservation Society officials measure the size of an adult male elephant during a collaring exercise in a remote area of South Sudan | View photo – Yahoo! News.

Rare Javan leopards captured in stunning camera trap photos

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Rare Javan leopards captured in stunning camera trap photos.

Swimming with the sharks of La Jolla – Yahoo! Weather

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Swimming with the sharks of La Jolla – Yahoo! Weather.

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