In January I was in Kenya! “What was it like?” friends and family asked me. “Well,” I would begin to say in my Minnie Mouse voice, “imagine waking up to the sound of twittering birds and going to bed with the laughing whoop of hyenas on the hunt.” In an African nutshell, that’s what Kenya is like…
Yet the animals weren’t the only stunning part of living in the jungles of Kenya- the stars were equally as mesmerizing. Out in the wild, away from city lights and pollution, they managed to glow so incandescently bright. Galaxies became distinctly visible, and several nights were spent staring up at them, making out constellations, and staying warm by the fireside. The beauty of the wild is that once you realize how it is has captivated you, you become part of it- including that of the heavens. Those stars contrasted against the African night sky like white against a zebra’s stripes.
And being an American, I think some stars deserve credit with the stripes that dazzled me every day out on the safari: the starry striped and zappiest, zippity do da zebras.
There are three main subspecies of zebra: Plains, Mountain, and Grevy’s. All are found on the African continent, with Plains Zebras occupied mostly in East Africa, the Mountain Zebra occupied in SW Africa, and the Grevy’s Zebra occupied in bits and pieces of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Northern Kenya. Sounding like a nice coulis treat of lion meat, the Grevy’s Zebra is the exclusive Gabby Wild entrée special this blog.
The first modern species of equids, or the evolutionary family of modern day horses, were the Asses (as any Armenian, Latina, or African girl can tell you about ad noseum). The next species that diverged from the earliest “true horses” were the Grevy’s Zebra- distinct from other zebras due to its stockier build, white underbelly (as opposed to a completely striped underbelly), and round Koala-like ears. Not to mention, it is the largest species of wild equid.
From all the exposure that Westerners have had to animal prints from thongs to thimbles, the zebra’s exotic stripes may seem commonplace. But the meaning behind the stripe is a sweet one. Contrary to the previous notion that the stripes were meant to ward off predators (namely lions that become “dazed by the stripes” and thus can’t see where one zebra ended and the other began), it now appears as though the stripes evolved as a manner of social function to facilitate group bonding. In zebra vision and brain physiology, the stripes are areas where the zebras seek to groom one another- that may be why ya don’t see too many stripes on the Grevy’s underbelly. I guess the other subspecie are a little more social there…
While the Grevy’s may be an absolutely charming subspecies of zebra, they are also extremely endangered. From 15,000 wild in the 1970’s, they have dwindled down to a mere 3,000 today. Why this happened, you might wonder? The answer is usually the same for why many present-day animals are endangered: man. Nursing Grevy’s mothers are given first priority in their herds to remain on grasslands that are near waterholes (to provide safety to them and their babies), but, understandably, native men force their cattle onto the same land that the zebras inhabit during the day, reducing the amount of land for these mothers and young to survive on. This forces the zebras to drink only at night making them very vulnerable to predation. Thus they often leave their young behind when they go out to drink, and when they return to their unguarded babies, often all they find are the remains of a lion attack.
So what is the solution? I don’t know. Building artificial waterholes for the exclusive use of cattle would be ideal, but that requires “cha-ching”. So sharing waterholes may be the next best thing. Research into this is being conducted at the Mpala Research Centre where these photos and footage were taken. Hopefully through a bit of negotiation between the native cultures and the scientists at the Research Centre, Grevy’s Zebras can one day live freely and as wildly as this jockey-sized girl who so enjoyed sharing their home with them for those short few weeks.
Feel free to ask me any questions about my “starry-striped” adventure. Hold your zebras because there is more African roaming to come!