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The endangered Grevy’s zebra, social media and artificial intelligence

by | Tom's Take, Wildlife News

Both Grevy’s and plains zebras, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
Zebras are one of the most ubiquitous animals our travelers see on safari. The zebra species most people recognize in East Africa are the plains zebra, which are also called the common zebra. They are so plentiful that, occasionally, I’ve even heard, “Let’s not find any more zebras!” (I’ve never heard that comment from any of the lions I seen over the years.)

However, our travelers who venture into northern Kenya may be treated to discovering one of Africa’s most endangered animals – the Grevy’s zebra. And when they do, they see that the differences between the Grevy’s and the plains zebras are striking. The Grevy’s are the largest of the world’s equines, with large, almost mule-like, heads and big, round ears. A big male can weigh almost 1,000 lbs.

But it is the pattern of their stripes that stands out as the biggest difference. Their stripes are much thinner – perhaps, more delicate – than those of their plains cousins. And, their stripes stop on their sides, giving them white bellies.

Grevy’s zebra in the afternoon soon at Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
Grevy’s are uniquely adapted to the harsher, semi-arid conditions found in northern Kenya and they can go up to a week without water. Therefore, they are most readily found in Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Parks, where they sometimes share the habitats with the plains zebra.

The Grevy’s zebra is most endangered of all the species of zebra. However, a new tool is being used to help accurately determine how many Grevy’s zebras live in northern Kenya. Wildbook is an online platform that uses artificial intelligence(AI) to examine thousands of photos of zebras. Every zebra has its own unique pattern of stripes, just as we humans have distinctive fingerprints. Wildbook’s AI program takes the photos that are uploaded through social media by safari travelers, researchers, wildlife enthusiasts and local residents (including school children) and identifies each animal. Up to this point, 3,447 Grevy’s zebras have been identified – an incredibly useful tool for those conservation scientists working to insure the future of this exceptional equine.

If the Grevy’s zebra is on your bucket list of African wildlife you wish to see, then ask us to include northern Kenya in your safari itinerary. To start, please click here and let us know you are a fan of the Grevy’s zebra.

Grevys zebra herd drinking at Ewaso Ngiro