Saving Amboseli – Photos of Zebra translocation

Amboseli is famed for the spectacular views of Mt Kilimanjaro and the elephant population made famous by Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole and the Amboseli Elephant Project.

Amboseli was severely affected by the Kenyan drought, and even though it is now officially over, this is no paradise for wildlife.

It is extremely hot and dusty and there is hardly any grazing. According to local scientists, over 95% of the wildebeest and nearly all the zebras and other wildlife perished from starvation in the drought. In addition the drought took 50 – 80% of the Maasai cattle herds. Predators lost their prey base, and lions, already critically endangered in Kenya also faced starvation so they turned to killing the few remaining cattle and other Maasai livestock.

According to the Maasai on the ground, in a normal year five cattle are killed by lions, currently lions attack five times per week!

To avert the situation the Kenya Wildlife Service mounted the largest wildlife operation in Africa, to translocate 7000 zebras and wildebeest to the park to provide food for the lions and no doubt, to restore the touristic attraction to Amboseli.

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We witnessed day 20 of the operation – the goal was to capture 50 zebras in a dawn operation. Everything started at 5.30am.

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The Kenya Wildlife Service helicopter rounds up zebras and drives them into a cleverly hidden funnel

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Once inside, the funnel is closed with curtains behind the zebras

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The zebras are completely confused but not panicked. They settle down until the chute and trucks are in place.

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Rangers make noise banging the floor and sides of funnel with sticks to move zebras into the chute.

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Zebras run from funnel into the chute and directly into the waiting truck

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KWS rangers and veterinarians count the individuals and make sure all is going according to plan

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49 zebras are captured. Zebras are compartmentalized in the truck in groups of 10

Six hours adn 300 km later the first zebra truck arrives in Amboseli

The container is opened and zebra makes first tentative steps out

then race for FREEDOM!

The last foal looked a little lost at first

But quickly followed the others running to the elephants in the swamp – causing a minor panic by the pachyderms!

The next day the zebras had figured out where the grass and water was. Of 49 captured 48 survived the first day. One individual ran directly into the swamp and the jaws of waiting hyenas. Its carcass was rescued and taken to a hungry lion pride wtih 6 cubs.

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2 Comments

  1. Keith Lindsay
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me or does this look like a very unwise thing to be doing? Setting a dangerous precedent of large-scale intervention in an otherwise naturally functioning ecosystem, spending massive amounts of money on a top-down attempt to “restore” some kind of illusory balance between local predators and introduced wildlife instead of working with the people to protect them against livestock losses. Fortunately, KWS appears to be pausing and reassessing the need for and wisdom of this departure from their otherwise excellent record in “light-touch” wildlife management.

  2. Rebecca, Australia
    Posted March 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    It is not a naturally functioning ecosystem anymore. Poisoning of wildlife with highly toxic pesticide is not natural. Maasai grazing thousands of animals is also not natural (remember that there were other tribes here, now gone, long before the Masai who did not keep livestock, but lived off the land).

    I agree it was a drastic action and I feel for the animals who were relocated, but it is preferable to having more predators killed in retaliation for preying on livestock.

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