The first Grevy’s zebra foal in 30 years has been born at Britain’s Chester Zoo, with the new filly arriving on Saturday to first-time parents Nadine and Mac.
The last Grevy’s zebra to be born at Chester Zoo was in 1980, and the last zebra of any species to be born there was in March 2001, when the arrival of a Grants Zebra (equus burchelli boehmi).
Conservation charity Chester Zoo is part of a European breeding programme for the species which is the largest of all zebras and distinctive from its cousins given that it has the narrowest stripes.
The Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is listed as endangered in the wild. They are native to the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Kenya, although they have become regionally extinct in Somalia and Sudan. Their numbers are said to have declined by more than half over the past 20 years due to a range of factors including the reduction of available water sources, commercial hunting for their skins and disease.
Grevy’s zebra were named for Jules Grevy, a former president of France, to whom the first known specimen of the animal was sent in 1882.
The new filly is as yet unnamed. She was born with brown stripes that will turn black as she matures.
Curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said the filly is very lively, and mum Nadine was doing a great job so far. “She’s certainly earning her parental stripes.”
Nadine and Mac are both eight-year-olds. Gestation of the Grvy’s zebra is 13 month.
“Since our female zebras arrived a few years ago we have worked very hard to breed this highly endangered species and the arrival of this foal is not only a really good achievement for us and good news for the species as a whole,” Rowlands said.
Current estimates put the total population of Grevy’s Zebra remaining in the wild in Kenya and Ethiopia between 1966 and 2447.
In January 2006 Northern Kenya experienced an outbreak of anthrax triggered by one of the worst droughts for decades. The disease threatened to spread throughout the reserves where the most important remaining Grevy’s zebra populations occur. The Kenya Wildlife Service called for funds to vaccinate up to 1000 wild Grevy’s to safeguard them against the disease.
Chester Zoo was among the international zoo community that came to the rescue. Within two weeks vaccinations were under way, averting a potentially disastrous outcome for the species. It is suspected that close to 5% of Grevy’s zebra succumbed to the disease, but vaccinations prevented a greater loss that could have pushed the species to the brink.