WEST GATE CONSERVANCY, Kenya: Five zebras roam the dusty Naibelibeli plains of this protected wildlife area in Kenya as a dozen camels, bathed in afternoon sunlight, feed on thorn trees.
The saucer-shaped ears and barcode-tight stripes of the black-and-white animals set them apart from ordinary zebra. These are Grevy’s zebra, a separate species whose numbers have plummeted in recent years.
Habitat loss driven by human population growth, hunting and disease mean fewer than 2,500 remain, down from about 15,000 at the end of the 1970s.
“People are settling everywhere and grazing everywhere,” said Peter Lalampaa, a Samburu tribesman and senior manager at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, who was visiting West Gate.
Until Kenya banned trophy hunting in 1977, Grevy’s zebra were shot for their skin. Hunting for meat probably had an even more dramatic impact on their numbers.
Some northern tribes, such as the Turkana, still consider the meat a delicacy. For others such as the Samburu, whose men wear brightly coloured blankets and whose women sport a wide collar of red beads, eating meat from a member of the horse family is taboo. Kenya outlawed the sale of game meat in 2004 in a bid to rein in poaching.
George Anyona, Grevy’s zebra liaison officer at the Kenya Wildlife Service, says human-wildlife conflicts result from a lack of planning and not a lack of land.
“If we plan well we will still have enough space,’ he said, indicating the vast expanse of the plains. “I would love my grandchildren one day to also see the Grevy’s zebra.”