In March 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta marked Kenya’s Wildlife Festival by burning 25 tons of Kenya’s ivory stockpile. The day was also marked by a unique event where Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Wildlife Direct and the Image-Based Ecological Information Systems (IBEIS) team, harnessed the power of Kenyan citizens to participate and contribute to scientific research. In Nairobi National Park, 75 photographers in 31 vehicles took about 10,000 images of plains zebra and giraffe from which scientists determined how these animals used the park before the onset of the rains. Through this two-day citizen science event, and using state of the art scientific analysis software (IBEIS), 2,300 plains zebras and 130 giraffes were estimated to be present in the park at that time.
Less than 2, 800 Grevy’s zebras exist in the wild, and over 90% of the total population is found in Kenya. Not only is this the largest zebra species, but it is also the most endangered zebra species on the planet. Although we know that Kenya holds the largest populations of the species, no reliable estimate of the total number of individuals in the country actually exists due the difficulty of surveying their sparse distribution across their vast habitat. In addition, Grevy’s zebras population’s age and sex structure is unknown, thus limiting our understanding of the population’s health and potential for growth. In order to determine the number of individuals and the population’s health, a large scale census is required. As a result of this need, the Great Grevy’s Rally (GGR) was conceived by members of Kenya’s Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee.
The Great Grevy’s Rally
Based on the success of the citizen science event held in Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservationists are planning to utilise the vast potential held by ordinary citizens to determine how many Grevy’s zebras there are in Kenya. Not only will this inform conservation management for the specie, but it will also introduce Kenyan citizens to the spectacular northern landscapes. This will be the first ever national census of Grevy’s zebras. The GGR invites eager and adventurous members of the public to participate in this unique event that will raise awareness and contribute invaluably to the conservation of this flagship species.
How the GGR will work
On the 30th and 31st of January 2016, scientists, landowners, conservancy managers and members of the public will drive through designated areas in northern Kenya and photographically record every Grevy’s zebra observed over two consecutive days. Each Grevy’s zebra has a unique stripe pattern, similar to the unique nature of human fingerprints, and this is the information participants will aim to capture. The first 70 teams to sign up to the GGR will be assigned a GPS enabled digital camera to photograph the right flank of each Grevy’s zebra. The camera will simultaneously record the location, time and date to be used in analysis. Using the IBEIS software, all Grevy’s zebra individuals photographed over the two- day period will be identified and will allow scientists to estimate the size and health of national and regional Grevy’s zebras population.
The health of the Grevy’s zebras population is based on the age and sex structure of the population. Once the age and sex structure of a population is established, conservationists can determine whether the population has the potential to grow. A healthy age structure is one where juveniles and foals account for 25% of the population. The optimal population sex structure has three females for every one male. The age and sex structures of regional and national populations will be analysed and will inform conservation management strategies.
Following the rally, the photographs will be analysed and results will be available in early March.
About Citizen Science
Citizen science is all about growing the role of the public in scientific research. Like medicine, speciality knowledge can be both confusing and intimidating. Citizen science aims to demystifying scientific research by engaging people in the process of scientific investigations and pulling them into asking questions, collecting data and sharing the results.
“Laikipia, and the greater Ewaso landscape have embarked on a mission to be Kenya’s very own Citizen Science destination. We want residents and visitors alike to share in the science of discovery and to engage with us in asking questions that will focus our future efforts, both for scientific investigation and management of these key, unique territories and their resources. The essence of Citizen Science is that volunteers collect and share data (information) that can be analysed by scientists and citizen participants. This information then becomes rich material for public feedback, wider public information sharing, lobbying, advocacy, funding and the development of new projects. In essence, we’re increasingly talking about the “democratisation” of science, scientific funding, and the use of scientific results.
The Great Grevy’s Rally is the first important step in this process. This scientifically supervised engagement of the public will yield the first attempted complete census of the endangered Grevy’s zebra in Kenya. It will contribute to their conservation and rehabilitation as a keystone Ewaso Landscape animal. It will also bring economic, tourism and PR benefits to the participating counties that can be judged in the millions of shillings. Perhaps the brand – ” Utafiti ya Wanainchi” will brand this landscape well into the future’, says Peter Hetz, LWF’s Executive Director.
Members of Kenya’s Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee along with local partners are leading the charge to organise and implement the GGR. The organising committee includes: Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Kenya Wildlife Services, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Marwell Wildlife, Northern Rangelands Trust, Samburu Trust, Saint Louis Zoo (USA), and Princeton University (USA). In addition, local partners are joining to support and facilitate the event, including Mpala Research Centre and the county governments of Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit and Samburu. Conservation partners are joining together to census this endangered species, and now we invite you to join the rally save the Grevy’s zebra.
For more information on how you can join the GGR visit www.greatgrevysrally.com