Grevy's Zebra
(Equus grevyi)
The largest of the living zebra species, Grévy’s zebra can be distinguished from the other zebras by its larger ears and narrower stripes.

In recent history, the species has undergone one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal. There has also been a 87 percent decline in numbers since the end of the 1970s. These declines were due in part to hunters killing the animals for their skins, which were made into fashionable clothing during the 1970s and 80s.

While the species is no longer commercially hunted for its skin, numbers are continuing to decline due to competition with pastoral people and their domestic livestock, and to the long-term effects of overgrazing.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Long-term monitoring, better management within reserves, and the establishment of further community-run conservancies.
Kenya and Ethiopia.
The function of a zebra’s stripes has been hotly debated. Many researchers state that the striped hide serves as camouflage by helping to break up the outline of the animals, particularly when they are viewed through long grass or the branches of bushes. Others argue that the stripes facilitate group cohesion and socialisation – there is some evidence that zebras are drawn closely to one another by such a pattern, while non-striped equids (horses and asses) maintain greater distances. It is believed that the equine ancestor of horses, asses and zebras was striped, but these have subsequently been lost during the evolution of the other two groups.
Associated Blog Posts
23rd Mar 10
Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), ranked 82nd out of all mammals as an EDGE conservation priority, is today's IUCN Species of the Day. The largest of the livi...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Zebras belong to the Equid (horse) family of the order Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates), a group of herbivores that also includes rhinoceroses and tapirs. The first horses appeared in the early Eocene of North America, around 56 million years ago. They were the size of small dogs and had several toes on each foot, unlike the single hoofs of modern horses. These early horses closely resembled the ancestors of rhinos and tapirs. They were browsers, and lived in forests and savannas. During the Miocene (25-8 mya) climate change led to a reduction in the amount of forest cover and an increase in grassland. This was a time of great evolutionary change for the early equids, with many groups evolving larger body sizes and adapting to a grazing lifestyle. Horse diversity peaked in the mid-Miocene (11-9.5 mya), with more than a dozen different genera evolving of many different sizes.

Since that time horse diversity has gradually decreased, with all forms becoming extinct with the exception of the modern horse genus, Equus. This genus first evolved during the North American Pliocene (4.5 to 1.8 million years ago). Members of this successful genus spread throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and South America during the first major glaciations of the late Pliocene (2.6 mya). However, in the late Pleistocene (around 12,000 years ago) a set of devastating extinctions killed off the horses, along with most other large mammals in North and South America. Today, wild horses are found only in parts of Africa and Asia. They are classified into four main groups within the genus Equus:

- Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi)
- Burchell's zebra (Equus burchelli)
- Mountain zebra (Equus zebra)

Asiatic wild asses:
- Kulan and onager (Equus hemionus)
- Kiang (Equus kiang)

African wild asses:
- African wild ass (Equus asinus)

Caballine (true) horses:
- Przewalski's horse (Equus caballus)
Head and body length: 250-300 cm
Tail length: 38-60 cm
Shoulder height: 140-160 cm
Weight: 352-450 kg
Grévy’s zebra is the largest living wild equid. It can be distinguished from the other two species of zebra by its larger ears and narrower stripes. Vertical stripes cover most of the head and body, with the exception of the belly, which is white. The legs are long and are marked with horizontal stripes which extend down to the hooves. A broad black stripe runs along the centre of the back, and is separated from the other stripes by a narrow white zone. The mane is very tall and erect, and also striped. Zebra foals have a mane which extends all the way to the base of the tail.
The species is predominantly a grazer, although it will also browse on shrubs and trees. It can eat tough, fibrous grasses that are inedible to cattle and some other ungulates (hoofed mammals).

The social structure is open and fluid with individuals occurring variously alone, or in same or mixed sex groups. Associations rarely last more than a few weeks or even days and, unlike in other species of zebra, no lasting bonds appear to form between adults. Some stallions are territorial, defending large areas of land from which they have exclusive access to any oestrous females passing through. At up to 10 sq. km these territories are among the largest known for any herbivore. Subordinate males are generally tolerated within these areas providing they do not interfere with the dominant male’s breeding activities.

Mating occurs throughout the year, although there are seasonal peaks during the July-August and October-November rains. A single foal is born after a gestation period of approximately 390days. The foal is relatively independent after about 7 months, but remains with its mother for up to 3 years. Both sexes are capable of breeding at 3 years, but wild stallions usually do not breed until about 6 years. Lifespan in the wild is not known, although captive individuals can live into their late twenties.

Dry semi-desert regions and open shrub/grasslands. The species is found in a limited region of subdesert country between the more arid region to the north that is preferred by E. asinus (African wild ass) and the wetter country to the south favoured by E. burchelli (Burchell’s zebra).
The species used to occur throughout northern Kenya and into Somalia and Ethiopia, to the coast of Eritrea and Djibouti. Today, northern Kenya is the species' stronghold. There are three small and isolated populations in Ethiopia, and there may be a few individuals surviving in the Sudan.
Population Estimate
Recent estimates indicate that there may now be as few as 1700-2000 animals left in the wild.
Population Trend
Declining. Towards the end of the 1970s, the total wild population of Grévy’s zebra was estimated to be approximately 15,000 animals. By 2002, some 3,000-3,500 animals were thought to survive (representing a 75 percent decline in numbers). In Ethiopia the situation is even worse with a 93 percent decline in numbers (from an estimated 1,500 animals in 1980 to 110 in 2003). The most recent estimates of 1700-2000 animals suggest an overall population decline of 87 percent.
Classified as Endangered (EN A1a+2c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Grevy’s zebra has declined drastically in modern times due to hunting for its skin, which was sought by hunters either as trophies or for export for use in the fashion markets of Europe and North America. There is no evidence of killing for skins since the species was listed on CITES Appendix I in 1979, although it may continue to be hunted for its meat in some areas.

The main threats to the species today are habitat loss and degradation. This is primarily due to overgrazing by domestic livestock, which alters vegetation structure and reduces the availability of forage. Access to water is limited, particularly during the dry season, due to the effect of irrigation schemes in highland areas and the exclusion of wildlife from water sources (this has occurred as a result of pastoralists becoming more sedentary around permanent and seasonal water sources). The animals must therefore compete with pastoral people and their livestock for water as well as food. The increasingly long distances that zebras now have to travel between suitable grazing areas and water sources are thought to be having a detrimental effect on breeding rates and infant survival. Poorly regulated ecotourism (e.g. off-road driving) may disturb the animals and also affect breeding, even within protected areas.
Conservation Underway
The species is currently listed under Appendix I of CITES, and is legally protected in Ethiopia. However, the continuing decline here suggests that this nominal protection has not been effective. The species is not legally protected in Kenya, although it has been covered by a hunting ban since 1977. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is currently working to upgrade the species’ status to Protected in Kenya.

Protected areas form less than 0.5 percent of the species’ range. In Ethiopia, it is found in three nominally protected areas: Alledeghi Wildlife Reserve, Borana Controlled Hunting Area, and Chalbi Wildlife Reserve (Chew Bahir). However, there is no effective protection of wildlife in these areas. The species is found in a number of protected areas in Kenya, including the Buffalo Springs, Samburu, and Shaba National Reserve complex. The largest protected population which comprises 22% of all wild Grevy’s occurs in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and is a critical birthing area and an important dry season refuge. Other protected areas in Kenya appear to be largely ineffective. For example, in Sibiloi National Park, Grévy’s zebras are now uncommon, whilst Losai National Reserve is not functional as a protected area.

Conservation initiatives for the species on Laikipia Plateau in Kenya, and particularly on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have led to increase in numbers in both areas. In addition, many of the communities in this region have established conservancies for wildlife conservation in which management caters for both wildlife and pastoralism. There is now a network of conservancies stretching from Lewa in the south to Laisamis in the north. Conservancies have been established with support from the Northern Rangelands Trust.

Long-term monitoring and research into Grévy’s zebra behaviour and ecology has also been carried out, mostly in protected areas in Kenya. In 2007 KWS appointed a species co-ordinator to oversee all Greyv’s zebra conservation activities within Kenya. A second key position created in this year is that of the Grevy’s zebra liaison officer. He will improve communication between all stakeholders, coordinate and prioritise conservation efforts for the species and implement the recently issued National Grevy’s zebra Conservation Strategy for Kenya.

There is a large captive population of Grévy’s zebra, with around 600 individuals being held in zoos throughout the world.
Conservation Proposed
Kenya’s first National Grevy’s zebra Conservation Strategy highlights population monitoring as imperative to Grevy’s zebra conservation. It also emphasises the importance of developing standardised survey methods and has for this purpose established a technical committee to develop and test different methods and to plan and carry out a national survey in 2008.

The IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group produced an Action Plan for the species in 2002, which emphasizes the need for range-state management plans for Grévy’s zebra, starting with Kenya. It also recommends that the status of the species in Kenya be amended to that of a Protected Animal. Other recommended actions include increased protection of water supplies. This can be achieved by improving water-use efficiency, imposing limits for use, increasing methods of storage, and forming “river-users associations” that involve local communities in decision-making about how water is used. Better management of resources in protected areas would also benefit the species.

Involving local communities in conservation efforts is crucial for the long-term survival of the species, since most animals live outside of protected areas. Community conservation programmes, such as the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy are strongly endorsed. Ecotourism programmes, if managed appropriately, will provide direct benefits to local communities and encourage them to work to conserve wildlife resources.

The long-term aim of the Action Plan is to reintroduce animals to areas of their former range to create a continuous distribution, thereby reducing the extinction threat that arises from isolation of populations.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
An ex-cattle ranch, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy works as a catalyst for the conservation of wildlife and its habitat. It does this through the protection and management of species including Grévy’s zebra and black rhino, the initiation and support of community conservation and development programmes, and the education of neighbouring areas in the value of wildlife.

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF): Grevy's Zebra Conservation
AWF’s Grevy’s Zebra Research Project was established to increase understanding and awareness of this endangered species and to curb the current decline of Grevy's zebra populations throughout Africa.

IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group
This collaboration aims to understanding the threats facing wild equids and ensure the long term survival of wild equid species.

Marwell Preservation Trust aims to help secure the future of the Grevy's zebra by supporting the national strategy for Grevy’s zebra conservation, providing training to local biologists, technical support to partner organisations and by working with communities to help them achieve their conservation goals.

The Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) is a Kenyan conservation trust that was established to conserve Grevy’s zebra across its range in collaboration with local communities. In the short-term, GZT’s conservation activities intend to halt the rapid decline of the species in the more remote areas of its range. In the long-term the success of its conservation programmes is based on fostering positive attitudes towards Grevy’s zebra and other wildlife, building community capacity to manage rangeland sustainably for livestock and wildlife, developing local Grevy’s zebra conservation strategies led by communities, and working with local, national and international partners to establish meaningful incentives to conserve the species.

Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) is an umbrella organisation for communities who seek to conserve biodiversity and improve environmental management as a means of improving their livelihoods. NRT is currently working with 15 community conservancies covering a total area of more than 5,000km2. The role of NRT is to develop the capacity of community organisations in conservation, natural resource management and natural resource-based enterprises. The future of wildlife in northern Kenya will rely upon support from local communities in order to retain an ecosystem approach to conservation, allowing wildlife to migrate through their natural range. This is particularly important for species such as Grevy’s zebra. Wildlife-based tourism is one of the key revenue generating activities for conservancies, and Grevy’s zebra are thus an important resource or community development.

Equid Specialist Group 1996. Equus grevyi. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 15 December 2006.

Langenhorst, T. 2008. pers. comm.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Williams, S. D. 2002. Status and Action Plan for Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi). In: Moehlman, P.D. (ed.) Equids: Zebras, Asses, and Horses: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SCC Equid Specialist Group, IUCN (The World Conservation Union), Gland Switzerland and Cambridge.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
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