Grevy’s strain


The majestic of zebra species struggling for survival in northern Kenya

Of all the rare species that are found in northern Kenya, the Grevy’s zebra is easily the most striking. Known as punda kanga in Kiswahili, it is stunning with its thin stripes, white belly and elegant gait. Some people say that you cannot ‘unsee’ a Grevy’s zebra; the memory of it stays with you.

There are three sub-species of zebra: the most common plains (or Burchells), the mountain zebra, and the Grevy’s. Undoubtedly the best place to see the Grevy’s is on the Lewa and Borana conservancies in Kenya’s Laikipia region. At last count, this landscape is home to about 300 animals, approximately 11 per cent of the global population.

The Grevy’s zebra has suffered one of the most drastic declines in numbers and range on the continent. It is estimated that there were about 20,000 roaming the plains of northern Kenya in the 1970s, but hunting and poaching brought this number down to a desperate 2000.

Now, conservation measures across northern Kenya and beyond – from communities and government to private conservancies – are helping reverse this decline. As per the last national census, Kenya is now home to 2,300 Grevy’s zebras, close to 90% of the total world population, meaning that the survival of the species is inexorably linked to the success of the country’s conservation programmes.

On Lewa-Borana, efforts to protect the Grevy’s include monitoring of predator densities, promoting a healthy and secure habitat and ensuring the overall well-being and health of the population, including the foal survival.

“We recognise that our population is key to ensuring the re-emergence of the species in northern Kenya,” says Geoffrey Chege, Lewa’s Head of Conservation and Wildlife.

“Grevy’s zebras are important, environmentally and economically, for Lewa-Borana and Kenya alike. They perform environmental services in dry rangelands that ensure healthy grazing for both livestock and wildlife. They are part of Kenya’s tourism product, offering a unique wildlife sighting. They are an iconic emblem of peace in areas where communities look to them culturally as an indicator of health and prosperity,” he adds.

Know your Grevy’s from your Burchells:

  • Grevy’s are the largest zebra species and grow to 275cm long, 160cm tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 450kg
  • Grevy’s stallions are extremely territorial, defending some of the largest territories of any land herbivore
  • Grevy’s are a northern speciality species, adapted to living and surviving north of the equator, and can survive for a few days without water
  • Grevy’s have white bellies – their stripes don’t cut across their bodies.

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Images courtesy:
Mother and foal, above: Martin Buzora / Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Herd at Lewa, below: Erico Hillier / Lewa Wildlife Conservancy