Striking a balance

01 October 2011 | News story

There’s a growing realisation that successful conservation comes from strengthening governance processes and involving the people who live with and depend on nature. In northern Kenya, IUCN and partners, with support from UKaid and other donors, are helping to secure a future for endangered Grevy’s zebra and the people who share a land with this iconic species.

Grevy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest of the three zebra species—distinguished from the more common plains zebra by its large size, narrow stripes and huge fuzzy ears. Once occurring across large tracts of the Horn of Africa, Grevy’s zebra is now confined to the drylands of Northern Kenya with some isolated populations in southern and north-eastern Ethiopia. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Once hunted for its magnificent skin, Grevy’s zebra has suffered one of the biggest declines of any African mammal, from a population of 15,000 to around 2,000 in the last 30 years. It is now one of Africa’s most endangered large mammals.

Conservation of the species cannot be viewed in isolation from people. The fates of Grevy’s zebra and human livelihoods are inextricably linked to the fragile ecosystem that they inhabit. Innovative community-based conservation models have been tried over the years by a number of organizations successfully conserving Grevy’s zebras and their habitat. The success and sustainability of Grevy’s zebra conservation depends on the commitment of communities living across its range. The Kenya Wildlife Service has developed a national conservation strategy for the species which involves local communities.

In Northern Kenya, IUCN and a local partner, the Resource Advocacy Programme (RAP) are supporting community initiatives in Garba Tula District to improve natural resource management and strengthen the capacity of the community to conserve priority species and rangeland habitat.

The initiative is strengthening land tenure and management institutions to enable local pastoralists to manage their rangelands which are home to some of the remaining populations of Grevy’s zebra.

Communities have mapped their rangeland resources and have developed by-laws that are based on customary rules and management practices. The numbers and range of Grevy’s zebra will be closely monitored to evaluate how well the project is protecting habitat and ecosystem health.

“Large scale participatory resource management plans developed by the community in Garba Tula have demonstrated complementarity between conservation of high value endangered species such as the Grevy’s zebra and the pastoralists’ way of life,” says Guyo Roba, of IUCN’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office. “Our project strengthens the legitimacy of land ownership and customary systems of natural resources access, regulation and management that go a long way in striking a balance between improving pastoralists’ livelihood and wise stewardship of natural resources, thereby conserving Grevy’s zebra and other ecosystem values.”

IUCN’s work contributes to the conservation efforts of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, a Kenyan organization that promotes the conservation of Grevy’s zebra and its fragile habitat in partnership with pastoralist communities.

“Grevy’s zebra is one of Kenya’s most magnificent large mammals and yet many people do not realize that it is in trouble”, says Belinda Low, Executive Director of Grevy’s Zebra Trust. “The local communities that we work with are exceptionally dedicated to their role in conserving Grevy’s zebra; they also recognize that the zebra is an indicator of an imperiled ecosystem on which they also depend. By securing resources for Grevy’s zebra and other wildlife we secure resources for traditional livelihoods, thus improving biodiversity as well as human well-being. That, for me, is successful conservation.”

For more information contact: Guyo Roba, IUCN Programme Officer for Drylands: guyo.roba@iucn.org