Great Grevy’s Rally

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Conservation in Action

The Great Grevy’s Rally 2018

Sacramento Zoo education specialist Chris Llewellyn joined the second national census of the endangered Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe in Africa, called the Great Grevy’s Rally. The census teams are made up of citizen scientists, conservationists, national and county governments, scientists, local conservancies, and NGO’s. Representation from U.S. zoos includes the Sacramento Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo Miami, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Lion Country Safari. Chris is taking us with her on this conservation journey and will share her experiences with us along the way.

Chris has worked in the Interpretive Center at the Sacramento Zoo for seven years where she cares for the animal ambassadors, does stage show, brings the ZooMobile to schools and more. Before the Sacramento Zoo she worked at Marine World Africa USA/Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for 16 years. Chris is an active volunteer at other animal conservation organizations including Wild Cat Education and Conservation Fund and the Consumnes River Preserve.

In the late 1970’s there were an estimated 15,000 Grevy’s zebra in the wild. Today fewer than 2,500 remain. The Grevy’s zebra has suffered one of the most drastic population declines of any African mammal, due to climate change, habitat loss and competition with livestock. The Great Grevy’s Rally is a census of the population, which will aid Grevy’s Zebra Trust and their conservation partners to safeguard the future of the Grevy’s zebra.

Day 0 – Connections to the Zoo

The Sacramento Zoo is home to female Grevy’s zebra. The zoo is a longstanding supporter of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust and is proud to partner with them to conserve zebras in the wild through the Great Grevy’s Rally.

Day 1 – January 23, 2018

After a long flight Chris arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. Chris used the downtime on her first day to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Orphans’ Project where they rescue and rehabilitate orphaned elephants and rhinos.

Chris also visited a Kazuri bead making workshop. Situated on what was once a part of Karen von Blixen’s coffee plantation there is now a small workshop where ceramic jewelry and beads are made by Kenyan women. Each bead is shaped by hand, by one of the 350 local women employed by Kazuri. The beads are then polished and kiln fired, painted and fired again before being strung into a necklace. The jewelry is then sold around the world. Creating the jewelry provides desperately needed income to families in a region where unemployment ranges from 65% – 90%.

Over the next few days Chris will hone her wildlife spotting skills and practice taking photographs of the sides of Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe. During the Rally, side photos of every Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe observed will be taken and used for photo identification of individual animals.

Day 2 – January 24, 2018

After a four-hour drive to the eco camp in Nanyuki, Chris got to hear about the rally from the Executive Director of Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Belinda Low! Chris also met up with the other U.S. zoo staff that represent the San Diego Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo Miami, Disney’s Animal Science and Environment, and Lion Country Safari.


Day 3 – January 25, 2018

Training day! After an early breakfast training for the Great Grevy’s Rally began promptly at 9:30 am. Training was taught by Belinda Low and David Kimiti, Head of Research from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Participants received the cameras that will be used to track and identify the individual zebras. They also learned about the data collection process and how their participation will be used to help African wildlife.

Day 4 – January 26, 2018

Time to pack and set off for camp. On the final day before the rally Chris took her last hot shower before helping to packing up the Land Cruisers with food, camping equipment, and luggage. After everyone was ready to go the convoy of vehicles set off for a four-hour drive to Laisamis.

Along the way they were lucky enough to pass by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, famous for its rhino and Grevy’s zebra populations. Next was Isiolo, a town that is famous for its ethnic and religious diversity, with a mix of Turkana, Samburu, Rendille, Meru, Borana and Somali ethnic groups. A stop in Archer’s Post connected Chris and her team with Rangeland Manager, Peter Lalampaa, Joshua Labarakwe, Laisamis Regional Coordinator and Camp Manager, Joel Loongo’nyo. Further along they drove through Serolevi, a town near Sera conservancy that hosts the first black rhino population to be introduced back into community-owned land in Kenya.

Day 5 – January 27

The two-day Great Grevy’s Rally had finally arrived! Chris and her team set off at 7:30 a.m. with their ranger to their assigned survey area. In preparation for being outside in the heat all day they carried plenty of water, sunscreen, snacks, lunch and their cameras.

During the two-day census Chris’s team did not spot a single Grevy’s zebra. While it was disappointing, no sightings are still important data. Over the two-day census 170 teams covered over 25,000 square kilometers (about 9,653 miles) in five counties of Northern Kenya and collectively took over 100,000 photographs. The photos will be submitted for analysis and the official results of the census will be completed by June 2018.

The rally is not just about counting animals. It is a photographic census to monitor the health and status of the endangered Grevy’s zebra. The results from this census will inform the decisions made to protect Grevy’s zebras. The Great Grevy’s Rally brought together communities, conservationists, national and county governments, scientists and the public to protect the future of Grevy’s zebra.

Day 6 – January 28

During the two-day census, there was some time for fun photos of Chris finding toy zebras and life in camp. The herders would make a corral for the livestock and the camp cook would make a hot meal for the rally participants.

Day 7 – January 29

Making the most of being in a different country, Chris took the opportunity to visit the Grevy’s Zebra Trust camp in Westgate Conservancy. There she got to see the Laisamis water pan built by the Grevy’s Zebra Trust and learn more about the threats facing Grevy’s zebra in Laisamis.

One of the main threats to Grevy’s zebra is limited access to water. Their range in Northern Kenya falls in arid to semi-arid habitat with limited permanent water sources. People and livestock also share these same resources and during times of environmental stress, such as droughts, the pressure on the available water increases. The Grevy’s Zebra Trust manages dry season water access to alleviate the stress on Grevy’s zebra, and ensure they have access throughout the long dry season of July to October. This intervention significantly improves the chances of survival for Grevy’s zebra populations in areas where they are particularly vulnerable during the dry season and helps other wildlife as well. The Laisamis water pan is one of several ways that the water is managed to ensure the zebra have access to water. The organization also works with local communities to engage water monitors who the water points daily and track their usage.

Day 8 – January 30

Chris began the day by meeting Grevy’s Zebra Scouts. Together they traveled out to the Naibelibeli plains and learned how the scouts collect data and then participated in data collection. She finally got to see some Grevy’s zebra!

In the afternoon she went to Ngutuk Ongiron where she and her group visited a manyatta (local settlement) to see how the Samburu people live, and to learn more about their culture. This was a unique opportunity where they got to ask questions and gain insight into the incredibly rich and vibrant traditions of the Samburu.

Day 9 – January 31

The focus of day nine was a visit to the Samburu National Reserve where she experienced the incredible and unique wildlife of northern Kenya.

Day 10 – February 1

On day 10 Chris met the Grass Guardians. They are a team of school-age children who are herders that champion rangeland restoration efforts in Westgate Conservancy. They showed off the tools being used to heal rangelands and how to herd livestock. The children enjoyed all the gifts brought to them by Chris and other, including some zebra swag from the Sacramento Zoo. Chris also had the eye-opening opportunity to explain to the children what a zoo is and why zoo’s, like the Sacramento Zoo, are doing so much to help Grevy’s zebra and their local communities.

Other highlights of the day included a field visit to learn about how the Grevy’s Zebra Trust is restoring native rangelands. Warriors from Westgate for the Samburu Olympics also stopped by and offered opportunities for everyone to try spear throwing, rungu (club) throwing and jumping.

Day 11 – February 2

Time to head home. Chris had an amazing experience and learned a lot but was ready to head home (where she had access to running water).

“I learned so much while in Africa and will forever be humbled by the experiences I had and people that I met during the Great Grevy’s Rally,” said Chris. “I am amazed at the ways in which the Grevy’s Zebra Trust is saving Grevy’s zebra and their habitat through partnerships with the local communities.”

As a longtime supporter of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust the Sacramento Zoo is proud of the work that they are accomplishing, and we are grateful to play a role in saving Grevy’s zebra from extinction.

Back Home – February 8

After a long journey back home Chris reflects on the rewarding experience of being part of zebra conservation in Kenya. She appreciates clean running water the most and is glad to be back with her dog and the comforts of home. If you want to get more involved, save the date for the Great Grevy’s Rally in 2020!

Thanks so much to Chris for taking us along with her and visit the Great Grevy’s Rally for the results in early summer 2018!