Grazing to Save Grevy’s

By Tracy Elsen, WCN Marketing & Communications Manager

“It looks like either the end of the world, or the beginning – I’m not sure which,” said my travel partner as we rumbled through the dry grasslands of northern Kenya in the back of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust truck. I was in Kenya visiting GZT and WCN’s other Partners in the area, Save the Elephants and Ewaso Lions. Although the entire Samburu area is dry for much of the year, the red dust and cracked earth of the plains where the rare and endangered Grevy’s zebra are found are especially parched.

This land is one of the last remaining homes for the Grevy’s but changing grazing practices of the cattle herds that also live in the area have altered the habitat, leaving less water and fewer grasses. As we drove over rutted roads, local Samburu who know GZT and its truck waved enthusiastically. Peter Lalampaa, GZT’s senior manager, explained how he and the rest of the team are working with the Samburu community to make the grasslands healthy again.

Livestock owned by local herdsmen are considered to be major contributors to land degradation. GZT, in partnership with the local Westgate Community Conservancy, is piloting a program that actually allows livestock herds to contribute to restoring the land.

Livestock like Tractors

The healthiest grasslands in the world are inhabited by herds of wild animals. In the Serengeti, teeming throngs of wildebeest and plains zebra act as a “massive biological tractor.” Animals keep land healthy by tilling soil with their hooves and fertilizing it with their dung. When domestic animals are managed to simulate this natural relationship between animals and land, they can bring the land back to health. Livestock must be kept close together and moved frequently, allowing the land time to recover from their presence. GZT is helping to teach these practices, known as holistic planned grazing, to local herdsmen.

GZT and the herdsmen putting the techniques into practice are already seeing results. There has been an overall increase in plant cover and the re-establishment of indigenous grasses. The health of cattle has improved so much that some community members haven’t been able to recognize their own cows. These healthier cattle bring higher prices when they are sold, adding to the economic health of the area. GZT staff members were excited to find a group of Grevy’s zebra occupying one of their pilot restoration areas. I was struck by how this program is truly beneficial for the community and for wildlife.

At the end of our day in the plains, Peter took us to one of these pilot areas. As soon as we turned off the main road, we could see the land around us turning from reddish-brown into green. For the first time all day, green grasses surrounded us. It may not have been quite the beginning of the world, but it definitely felt like the beginning of something new.  

Tags: Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Grevy’s Zebra, community outreach, Field Notes