Most zebras that end up in a hungry lion’s claws don’t make it out alive. But this lucky stallion survived with a little help from humans.
More than 300 endangered Grevy's zebras live in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a protected area in northern Kenya.
Fewer than 3,000 of the equids exist in the wild, so when park rangers saw the wounded zebra with a huge slash on its back, they notified the conservancy's mobile wildlife veterinary unit.
The team decided to intervene and try to save the severely wounded animal. (Read about an African elephant's amazing recovery after being shot.)
"In an ideal world we should let nature take its course, but in the case of the Grevy’s zebra, we cannot afford to lose even one," says Wanjiku Kinuthia, the conservancy communications officer.
"We darted him and immobilised him. If we didn’t take any action, who knows what would have happened," Kinuthia says.
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The team treated the zebra's wound, gave him antibiotics, and released him back to his herd.
Rangers and vets are monitoring his progress to make sure he's healing. So far, so good, and the team will check him again in two weeks.
Besides the risk of being eaten by their natural predators, Grevy’s zebras are threatened by habitat loss, competition with livestock for grazing lands, and local hunting.
The vast majority live in Kenya, with only a small population remaining in Ethiopia. In the late 1970s, there were upwards of 15,600 Grevy’s zebras across Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan, where their population is now locally extinct.
Demand for Grevy's skins in the 1970s and 1980s caused their decline, but a 1977 hunting ban prevented their extinction in Kenya.
Deciding if a wild animal like a Grevy's zebra should be treated by vets is a complicated issue, says Joshua Ginsberg, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
“I don’t think any naturally occurring injury should be dealt with by humans unless there is a strong conservation reason,” he explains.
Wildlife managers must make tough, instantaneous decisions in the field, taking into account factors such as the injured animal's population numbers and sex. (Related story: "To Rescue or Not, That is the Question With Distressed Animals.")
For instance, Ginsberg says, "females are more important than males because they can easily be replaced by another breeding male."
Nevertheless, Kinuthia says the Conservancy will continue efforts to preserve this vital part of the Kenyan landscape.
“They are rare and beautiful, and a species we must definitely work hard to save.”