Born and raised in Kenya, Belinda Mackey is an international expert on the Grevy's zebra, one of the world's most beautiful striped creatures. Her background, training, and passion for the people and wildlife of Kenya have given her a keen knowledge of population trends, management issues, community networks, and threats to the Grevy's survival. In 2007 Belinda co-founded the Grevy's Zebra Trust and now serves as its Executive Director.
Belinda achieved her MSc in Conservation at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent in the UK. After its completion, she returned to Kenya and worked through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the Earthwatch Institute, and the Northern Rangelands Trust to identify population and management issues faced by this great equid. During this time Belinda engaged with the local pastoral communities and founded the Grevy's Zebra Scout Program to learn more about the Grevy's zebra and to help local communities recognize its importance. This scout program laid the foundation for the Grevy's Zebra Trust.
Belinda has now worked to promote the preservation of the Grevy's zebra for over a decade. She is a Certified Educator in Holistic Rangeland Management, a member of IUCN's Equid Specialist Group, and a founding member of Kenya's Grevy's Zebra Task Force.
In the late 1970s there were an estimated 15,000 Grevy's zebra roaming the plains. Today there are approximately 2,500 individuals remaining across Kenya and less than 150 sprinkled in southern Ethiopia. Competition with livestock on communal lands and lack of available resources are also some of the largest contributors to the decline in species numbers. Other threats include lack of water, poaching for meat, and loss of critical habitat.
This significant decrease in individuals is equal to an 80% decline in population numbers over just three decades. The Grevy's zebra is the largest of the three zebra species. It has narrow stripes, a white belly, black dorsal stripe, large rounded ears and a brown muzzle that distinguish it from the more recognizable plains zebra.
The Grevy's is at home in the arid and semi-aird habitat in which it lives and can go without water for up to five days, unless it is a lactating female. These females must drink at least every other day to keep up milk production. With land degradation on the rise and drought always just a whisper away the female Grevy's may have to leave her foal behind when searching for water. This increased search for water has amplified foal mortality rates, in turn leading to a dwindling population size.
Recognizing that people and animals must co-exist, Grevy's Zebra Trust works to achieve commitment and coordination amongst all stakeholders to protect the remaining Grevy's zebra. GZT engages local people as key change makers in their communities. Grevy's Zebra Scouts and Ambassadors collect scientific data, provide security and surveillance, and lead education programs. GZT also assists local people in holistic range management, preserving the land for their livestock as well as wildlife.
Grevy's Zebra Scouts
As the flagship program of Grevy's Zebra Trust, Grevy's Zebra Scouts implement the message of conservation right in their own communities. Scouts are local men and women who are paid several days a week to monitor the Grevy's zebra herds and report on their findings. They collect the scientific data necessary to understand the dynamics of the Grevy's zebra herds and the way in which they interact with their environment. Scouts are trained to look at actual numbers of animals, age structure of herds, signs of the animals such as spoor, environmental influences, weather, habitat, and a variety of other factors that contribute to the Grevy's survival. All data is geo-referenced through GPS units and entered into the GZT database. By tracking the whereabouts and health of the zebra herds, GZT is able to better understand how local communities and changes in environment affect its populations.
Since the inception of the program in 2003, GZT has amassed an impressive amount of data that helps to recognize changes in the species, and informs the type of programs that are designed to keep Grevy's zebra herds safe into the future. Each year the Scouts make recommendations to local community managers based on their findings, and those recommendations are used to develop management strategies which are then recommended back to the communities. This high level of engagement and awareness helps to make the Grevy's zebra a part of the communities in which they live, and gives the people a greater understanding of their importance. By connecting the communities with the animals, GZT has seen a shift in attitudes and positive feelings toward the Grevy's zebra.
Holistic Rangeland Management
Human populations across Kenya have grown and become less nomadic. Traditional grazing practices have changed along with these growing populations and thus the landscape has been altered. As a result of now common overgrazing, local communities report seeing fewer grasses that are good for herbivores and more nutrient void weeds that provide a lower quality diet. With limited supple grass cover, the land is bare and the bush is encroaching, leaving less habitat for grazing herbivores such as the Grevy's zebra.
GZT is addressing this important and impending threat by helping the local communities execute systems of Holistic Rangeland Management in which grazing cattle are used to improve the land. Within the system cattle are corralled together at night in tight pens. As a group they till (with their hooves) and fertilize (with their dung) the soil leaving it in better shape for the native grasses to grow. By working as a community and rotating where these large groups of cattle feed, ranchers simulate the natural process of large migratory herds and maximize the potential of the land.
In areas where this has proven to be an effective strategy the communities are working together to save the land for themselves and for the wild animals that live there. GZT facilitates this success by offering training, support, expertise, and assistance in implementing the program.
Grevy's Zebra Ambassadors
One of the most important and effective ways that Grevy's Zebra Trust works to be successful is by being sensitive to the different challenges that the people and animals of Kenya and Ethiopia face based on the region in which they live. In El Barta, in the northern area of Kenya, resources for Grevy's zebra are abundant, but the lives of the people are at times tough. GZT recognizes that when people must fight to survive they are less likely to have the capacity to help the animals living amongst them. In this region where the Samburu and Turkana tribes often come into conflict over livestock and resources, GZT has implemented the Grevy's Zebra Ambassador program.
Through this program individuals from both of these tribes work together to address the situation and preserve the approximately 100 Grevy's that remain in the area where poaching for subsistence food is common. Ambassadors are trained not only in scientific data collection, but also in security and surveillance. They are provided with uniforms and communication tools that afford them the opportunity to contact officials in times of intensified strife. GZT Ambassadors also work as conservation messengers, spreading the importance of preserving wildlife and ultimately by working together these representatives of each tribe provide a platform to initiate peace talks and understanding.
Education and Outreach
Through each of their programs Grevy's Zebra Trust works to educate the local communities. They achieve this through storytelling and puppet shows preformed for local children by the Grevy's Zebra Scouts and through community workshops for the adults. Both programs allow for conversation about the Grevy's, and they not only provide the communities with information about the zebra, but also allow GZT to better understand the needs of the communities and the ways in which they can work together to save this magnificent species.
Additionally GZT provides several secondary school bursaries for local students living in communities that share their spaces with the Grevy's. By providing many of these students with an education that wouldn't otherwise be possible, GZT is helping to build the future capacity of Kenyans and works as a catalyst to change attitudes about wildlife.
Grevy's Zebra Trust excels at fostering relationships and good will toward the environment. By working to save the zebras and their habitat, the land will be saved for use by other wildlife as well, and future generations will understand the importance of this magnificent animal.