Laikipia is one of the few places where two species of zebras—the plains and the Grevy’s— exist together, making it the perfect place to study relationships. Why is the Grevy’s facing extinction, while the plains is far from threatened? Because researchers can identify specific animals by their stripes, they can map the animals’ social networks. Researchers at Mpala have identified several factors that handicap the Grevy’s. Although anti-poaching laws have helped stop the killing of Grevy’s for their hides, a new threat—competition with pastoral people and their livestock—has forced the Grevy’s out of their more arid, northern habitat into central Kenya where plains zebras live. While plains females mate with a dominant male that protects his harem, the female Grevy’s wanders to different areas to find mates. This leaves her open to greater predation. Faced with fewer females of their own species, male Grevy’s mate with plains females. The hybrid offspring increase the population of plains zebras but add nothing to the Grevy’s numbers. Armed with this data, researchers are working to increase the number of Grevy’s by breeding them on protected land. Perhaps one day they will be numerous enough to survive in their original habitat.
RIVER CAMP PRODUCTIONS: FILMMAKING BY KENYAN AND PRINCETON STUDENTS