World's Most Endangered Zebras Born at Florida Wildlife Refuge

Four Grevy's zebra foals will help boost the global population.

Grevy's zebras
Four Grevy's zebra foals were born this summer.

 White Oak Conservation

Four new Grevy’s zebra foals are trotting around White Oak Conservation in northeastern Florida, likely oblivious to the impact they’re making on the species.

The four foals — three males and one female — were born in June and July. The first Grevy’s zebra arrived at the refuge in 1977 from another population in North America. Since then, 96 Grevy’s zebras have been born at White Oak.

With fewer than 2,000 remaining in the wild, Grevy’s zebras are the world’s most endangered zebra species. They are classified as endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with population figures down drastically from around 15,600 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Besides being an important part of the North American assurance population of Grevy's zebra, these four little foals also play an important role in engaging people with zebra conservation,” Brandon Speeg, White Oak's director of conservation, tells Treehugger.

An assurance population is a group of genetically diverse animals kept in captivity to ensure that a sustainable population would survive in case the species becomes extinct in the wild. It's unlikely that these foals will be released into the wild.

Grevy's zebra mother and foal
The foals will stay with their mothers for about a year and a half. White Oak Conservation 

White Oak is a 17,000-acre facility well known in conservation and animal circles. It is home to more than 30 species, 18 of which are endangered. The flagship species include rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, okapis, and the Grevy’s zebras.

The zebra foals are being raised by their mothers and will stick by their sides until another offspring is born — usually about a year and a half later. The zebras live in herds and form social groups at the refuge just as they would in the wild, says Speeg.

The Story of the Grevy’s Zebra

Grevy's zebra foals
The zebras will likely remain on the refuge and not be released into the wild. White Oak Conservation 

The zebra was named for Jules Grevy, a French president who received a zebra as a gift from the president of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1882. A French zoologist recognized this was a different species and named it after the president, reports the Smithsonian National Zoo.

The largest of all zebras, Grevy’s zebras have long, narrow heads and large ears, giving them a mule-like appearance. They have black and white stripes all over their bodies, including their mane and ears.

The Grevy’s zebra was once found in arid shrublands and grasslands throughout Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. Today, they exist in the wild only in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, according to the IUCN.

They are facing extinction primarily due to habitat loss, but also due to hunting, predation, and disease. There’s increasing competition with humans and their livestock for water and for land to graze on.

White Oak’s zebras are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Grevy’s zebra Species Survival Plan (SSP). 

"Many AZA-affiliated facilities support the great work being done to save the Grevy’s zebra in Kenya and Ethiopia. Two of the leading zebra conservation organizations are the Northern Rangelands Trust and Grevy’s Zebra Trust " says Speeg.

"Despite the Grevy zebra's precipitous decline in past decades, those conservation programs have helped stabilize the population. So I see this zebra’s story as a hopeful demonstration of what conservation action can achieve."