The current most serious and widespread threat to Grevy’s zebra in Kenya is loss of habitat. We are working with Westgate Community Conservancy and Northern Rangelands Trust to restore the condition of degraded habitat in two ways:
- short-term intensive clearing of undesirable plant species and re-seeding with indigenous perennial grass
- improvement of long-term grazing management
A pilot project was conducted in Westgate’s conservation buffer zone, an area of 1,200 hectares (ha) reserved for dry season grazing by livestock. 238 ha were cleared and re-seeded in 2009. Since 2010, bi-annual dry season grazing plans using bunched livestock have been implemented by the conservancy.
Participatory mapping of the past and present landscape allows community members to identify change and what has caused it. This process sets the context for developing a collective vision that describes how they want their land and community to look like in the future. Management decisions are then based on this desired future considering biological, economic and social factors.
Community members already have an intimate knowledge of local ecology. We build upon this foundation by exploring ecosystem processes such as the water cycle and how grazing management affects ecosystem health. “It’s like a life-giving training; it’s about our way of life, about pastoralism and our livelihood”- comments from women who had participated in a training workshop.
Clearing & Re-Seeding
The proliferation of Acacia reficiens, an indigenous tree species, corresponds with the disappearance of perennial grasses. A. reficiens forms closed canopy stands and may chemically inhibit understory vegetation causing extensive erosion gullies and bare ground.
Clearing is done at the height of the dry season to limit coppicing. The soil is scored and indigenous grass seed sprinkled in cleared areas at the onset of the rains. Cut branches are laid in gullies to limit erosion. Grass seed from these sites has since been harvested and stored by the Conservancy for use in subsequent clearing and re-seeding projects.
Holistic planned grazing is a dynamic planning process that considers livestock, wildlife, and community needs. It is done in the wet season (when overgrazing must be avoided and plants given recovery time) and the dry season (when forage must be rationed). Half the forage is allocated for wildlife and soil cover.
Livestock is used as a tool with two functions:
- grazing where animals follow a plan in which time for plant recovery is the main focus
- animal impact where livestock is used to create disturbance to hard, capped soil through bunching a grazing herd, or by weekly shifting of livestock bomas to re-invigorate soil
Used correctly, these tools enhance the ecosystem processes, producing more abundant and diverse plant and animal communities.
Grevy’s zebra did not utilise the buffer zone frequently prior to habitat restoration efforts. An adult male has since established his territory in the buffer zone and 3-6 resident females and their spoor are regularly observed by Conservancy scouts. Six lactating females with foals less than 3 months old also used the buffer zone for a period of several months. In addition, buffalo have returned to the area and the grasses are being heavily utilised by elephants.
Upon exiting the dry season grazing plan in October 2010, cattle body condition scores were greater after the grazing plan than before and this increase was significant. This may be attributed to the following factors:
- better quality forage from the planted grass than outside the buffer zone
- we planned for the cattle to be grazing the best forage at the end of the dry season to maintain condition
- we planned for the cattle to be closer to water at the end of the dry season to reduce energy expenditure
As a result of the improved body condition of the cattle, the buffer zone cattle have sold for higher prices than those that had not grazed the buffer zone, thus positively impacting livelihoods.
A total of 17 boma sites were established during the dry season grazing plan of June to October 2010. Monitoring was done after one rainy season (15 months after the bomas had been utilised). Perennial grass and forb cover was greater inside the boma than outside and this difference was significant.
We expect the grass and forb cover to continue on an upwards trend following subsequent rainy seasons, and for the bomas and cleared sites to provide seed source for the surrounding areas.