Grevy’s Zebra Trust Holistic Range Management
San Diego Zoo Global is committed to saving species and inspiring a passion for nature at a global level. This means the conservation of a species cannot be viewed in isolation from the needs of people living across and within the species’ range. The success and sustainability of a conservation program is critically dependent on having the commitment of human communities to maintain a habitat that will support sustainability of both human and wildlife needs.
The Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT), a Kenyan not-for-profit organization founded in 2007, subscribes to a similar conservation mission and belief relative to the critically endangered Grevy’s zebra. The Grevy’s zebra is considered critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and has experienced an 80% decrease in numbers since 1970.
Fewer than 3,000 Grevy’s zebra in Kenyan rangelands and very small population pockets in Ethiopia are all that remains. San Diego Zoo Global has partnered with and supported GZT and its zebra conservation programs in Kenya since it began.
Human communities that share Kenya’s northern rangelands have deep pastoralist roots and have grazed domestic livestock in balance with wildlife in the harsh, dry, yet rich and biodiverse Kenyan rangelands for many generations. Over time, human population growth and a subsequent increase in the number of domestic livestock resulted in degraded areas of rangelands prone to erosion, poor soil unfit for vegetative growth, dramatic loss of forage and a region simply unfit to support local wildlife. Wildlife moved away and the communities were faced with the increasing and daunting challenges of trying to support livestock in seriously degraded habitat.
GZT was inspired to introduce Grevy’s zebra conservation efforts through implementation of holistic or balanced rangelands use and management strategies that would benefit both wildlife and the human communities. Holistic management offers land managers (the people) a decision-making framework for managing natural resources resulting in ecology and biodiversity regenerative insights and tools, improves production and generates financial stability.
By developing broad community range management strategies to carefully plan and schedule the grazing of cattle and other domestic livestock, these animals have been transformed from a destructive force on the habitat to a tool that is actually helping to restore the habitat. The periodic heavy grazing, the hoof-impact breaking up of hard pan soil, the deposit of natural fertilizers (poop) by domestic livestock – all missing since loss of the herds of wildlife – and then moving the domestic animals onto new areas on a planned schedule has allowed regions of habitat to rest (grass root regeneration) and to subsequently support the re-growth of native grasses through community re-seeding with native grasses, the removal of invasive species of vegetation and restoration of biodiversity.
The holistic range management program in Kenya was implemented in the West Gate Community portion of the Northern Rangelands Trust, which San Diego Zoo Global also supports. The program has grown from an initial single community conservancy test on 3,000 acres to a multi-community regional approach now involving almost 800,000 acres that are under planned grazing management.
Both humans and wildlife have benefited. Wildlife, including oryx, giraffe, zebra, elephants and other species, has returned in growing numbers to the region from nearby national parks and reserves. Domestic livestock has improved health and better supports the financial stability of human communities in the region where holistic range management is practiced.
Additional benefits that have grown out of the holistic rangelands management program are communities working with each other, improved human and wildlife security from poaching, improved regional communication allowing consistent practices development, improved livelihood for the Kenyan people through increased tourism, increased wealth from healthier livestock, reduced competition for water between livestock and wildlife, a community recognition that a healthy wildlife population is in the community’s best interest and a growing voice in the development of national wildlife strategies that affect the communities and the wildlife ranging across the community lands.
A recent benchmark of success was the development and publication of the Kenya Wildlife Service National Strategy For Grevy’s Zebra. This would not have been possible in the absence of the northern rangelands communities being united in a common goal to help both Grevy’s zebra and communities survive and thrive.
San Diego Zoo Global is proud to be a significant core supporter of the holistic range management initiative in Kenya. We plan to continue our support and are pleased that we now have the opportunity to help develop a holistic management education center and curriculum, to be located in the Kenyan West Gate Community.
Carmi Penny, Director Collections Husbandry Science/Curator of Mammals