The main sentiments felt within our small group of citizen scientists as we headed into the field that Friday the 29th of January was probably ‘Let’s not get eaten by lions’. By the time we returned to Nanyuki at the end of the weekend, those sentiments had changed to ‘Let’s do this again!’
Our group of eight was composed of an eclectic mix: two biologists (neither with any experience with Grevy’s sampling), one logistics officer, one project manager for an embassy, one communications officer, one photographer, one economist and one finance intern working for a start-up company. Some of us had never been camping in the bush, some had never been in a four-wheel drive vehicle, and some of us, amazingly, had never stepped in mud! All of us were, however, very excited to be spending the weekend adventuring for a worthy cause. We started off with registration and training from the organisers in Nanyuki, as well as receiving directions, maps and last minute prepping before being released into the wild.
The drive up from Nanyuki to Loisaba was largely uneventful and we were even afforded some breaks to take in the scenery and get a head start on our photography. After lots of winding roads and impossibly beautiful panoramas, we arrived at the campsite at dusk. There we were greeted by Dale, the Conservancy manager, and Fiona, who runs the tourism business. After assigning us our target areas, our maps and our personal guides (who also doubled as our last line of defence against lion attacks), they left us to set our tents up and begin our adventure in earnest. The campsite was simple but we had everything we needed; water, food, shelter and, most importantly, firewood for a bonfire.
We set off early the next morning with the two vehicles in our group dividing up the 56,000 acre property between them. We had been assigned specific blocks, and we attempted to make our way through them as best as we could. Dale had warned us that the Grevy’s might have moved around onto other properties after the rains, so we had cautious expectations. Both teams did manage to spot more than a dozen Grevy’s each, and the good weather and general flat terrain meant that we had an excellent chance of getting photos of the animals’ requisite right flank for use in identification and matching. Some of the zebra proved to be restless subject matter, and we had to spend some time coaxing them to pose for us. Even then they would stubbornly turn in unison and face the wrong way. Extreme measures often had to be taken in order to acquire a usable shot of a particular zebra, including driving through dry river beds, up imposing kopjes or bobbing and weaving through thick bushes. Through all this, we were lucky to see many other ungulates and assorted wildlife, including Impala, Gazelle, Oryx and the more common but only slightly less elegant plains zebra. After a late afternoon Sundowner at one of Loisaba’s upcoming lodges on the escarpment, we went back to camp for the night.
The following day was mainly an attempt at recreating the previous day’s sampling blocks. Success was varied, and we won’t be sure what percentage of the sightings we saw that afternoon until the photos are analysed. We broke camp and drove off in the early afternoon, enjoying the picturesque scenery. We felt thoroughly satisfied with our camping adventure and our small contribution towards science. This contribution hopefully will provide the necessary data to continue protecting the majestic Grevy’s zebra.
Thank you so much to all citizen scientists for your participation in the Great Grevy’s Rally (GGR) as well as the County Government of Laikipia, landowners, conservancies and partner organisations for supporting the historic event. As a result of your involvement, the GGR was able to sample 45 counting blocks covering over 25,000 sq. km in the first ever age structured census of the endangered Grevy’s zebra.
The initial estimate is that there were over 50,000 images taken! The Rally brought together conservancy managers, National Reserve wardens, tourism partners, conservation organisations, county governments, research scientists and interested members of the public from many parts of Kenya. The Rally also represents one of the biggest collaborations of conservation organisations in northern Kenya and garnered strong support from the Samburu, Laikipia, Isiolo and Marsabit counties, demonstrating the power of devolution and support from local communities.
The disk with all the images will make its way back to the US within a couple of weeks and then the IBEIS team will identify all the unique individuals seen and compare the sightings on the first day with the sightings of the second day to estimate the size of Grevy’s zebra populations by region and nationally.
The next step will then be to examine the photos to assign ages (adult, juvenile, foal) to each uniquely identified individual. Dan Rubenstein will create a Zooniverse website so that volunteers worldwide can help review the thousands of images and categorise Grevy’s zebra age classes. The public will be notified when the Zooniverse site goes live so that anyone interested can help out again as a citizen scientist! You don’t have to be an expert on Grevy’s zebra ageing as there are hundreds of people working on the images thus drawing on the power of the crowd which will produce weighted and more accurate results.
We look forward to sharing more news in due course and thank you again for taking part in this unique citizen science event to save one of Kenya’s most iconic species!
For frequent updates please log on to the GGR website: http://www.greatgrevysrally.com