The strike was swift and lethal. One heavy blow to the head was all it took to ascertain his authority and regain his dominance. Blood flowed freely and it was obvious death was imminent. We all watched as mere spectaters as the duo enaged in a gigantic battle that lasted for 15 minutes culminating in staggering gaits of the looser and eventually bleeding profusely and collapsing. The rest of the herd watched from a distance, none of them would ever dare challenge this dominant male “ the beast” anytime soon. He had just affirmed his position, he had earned it.
This spectacle sends shudders down your spine due to the ferocity involved and at the same time astonishes your being. Male zebras often fight for dominance, but contrary to this rare event, they are often a peaceful lot. In Ijara, Garissa County, Kenya, these mane less zebras are slowly but surely taking over villages in Kotile area displacing domestic livestock. They aimlessly interweave with livestock and herders, spending both day and night at the bomas’ doorstep.
Human settlements are usually a safe haven to these zebras as most predators like the lion keep their distance, staying at least 2-3 KM away. This allures them to the villages and as a result, their numbers have been rapidly increasing, making them more abundant than their domesticated relatives, the donkeys. Zebras are also attracted by nutrient rich new grasses and herbs that are common around old livestock corrals. However, no one seems perturbed by this, if anything, the locals seem to enjoy their presence and do not see them as competitors to their livestock. Regardless, the constant male fights for dominance are a danger to the children and elderly who are oblivious to these threats in the villages.
Zebra herds comprising of 5-20 individuals often dot the landscape co-occurring with evenly spaced dobera trees that occur in single files as if planted by the colonial powers. Here, they fearelessly mate, feed and fight. However, these harmonious relationship between the locals and zebras is threatened by lack of understanding between these two species. After birth, female zebras leave their foal to graze around the village, most locals assume the foals have been abandoned. They capture and nurse these foals with cow milk and often attempt to reunite them with their mothers but end up taking them to new group. Most times, the foals are rejected by the mother (real or surrogate) and often the dormant male will try to kill the foal and intercept any integration into the group.
In the last four months while I was in the field, four foals have been rescued by the locals and unfortunately only one has survived. This foal was luckily accepted by the mother and just integrated with the group as we nervously watched. Among those that died, was one nicknamed “marrow” by locals, named after the surrogate cow mother and later taken to the nearby ishaqbini conservancy, fed for a month but unfortunately passed on after four weeks. As a part longterm community involvement we are doing, we are creating area wide awareness among the local communities to stay away from these zebras, but more needs to be done to create awareness among the youth on how to co-exist with this sociable but dangerous beasts.