Wildbook Aims to Save One of the World’s Most Endangered Animals

Wildbook Aims to Save One of the World’s Most Endangered Animals

Conservationists hoping to save one of the world’s most endangered animals have a new high-tech tool in their arsenal: Social media.

Grevy’s zebras once roamed across five countries in Africa, but their numbers have dwindled to barely 3,000 due to habitat loss and hunting.

Now an online platform known as Wildbook is keeping tabs on these precious equines, by enabling volunteers take and upload photos that are then matched against zebras already in the site’s database.

The zebra’s distinct stripes, which are as unique as fingerprints, allow them to be easily identified from among hundreds of thousands of submitted photos.

Developed in 2003 to help track whale sharks, Wildbook uses algorithms and machine learning to identify and track individual animals.

A profile is created for each and information about age and gender is added when it’s known.

So far volunteers, known as ‘citizen scientists,’ have helped map out some 2,800 Grevy’s zebras in Kenya, which is home to 95 percent of the species, according to the Standard.

These amateur conservationists include wildlife enthusiasts, residents and even schoolchildren, Rosemary Warungu of the Mpala Conservation Centre in Laikipia, told the Kenya Standard.

These amateur conservationists include wildlife enthusiasts, residents and even schoolchildren, Rosemary Warungu of the Mpala Conservation Centre in Laikipia, told the Kenya Standard.

A census called the Great Grevy’s Rally, has been held every two years since 2016. The most recent census was held in January.

Previously, photos were identified manually, a far more time-consuming process.

It is estimated that there are less than 2,500 Grévy’s zebras in the wild, and another 600 in captivity.

This summer, a wildlife refuge in northeast Florida announced the birth of four new Grevy’s zebra foals.

Three males and one female were born at the White Oak Conservation in Yulee, according to Treehugger.

Nearly 100 Grevy’s zebras have been born at White Oak since 1977, when the first came to the facility.

The newborns are part of what’s known as an assurance population and will not be released into the wild.

While Grevy’s zebras were known in ancient times and even appeared in Roman circuses, it wasn’t until 1882 that French zoologist Émile Oustalet identified them as a distinct species.

He named them after French president Jules Grevy, who was presented with one as a gift.

Also known as the imperial zebra, it is the world’s largest wild equine.

The Grevy’s zebra is taller and has larger ears compared to the plains zebra, giving it an almost mule-like appearance.

Its decline was first attributed to poachers, who hunted it for its skin until hunting bans established in the 1970s. Now the main threat is habitat loss.

Cattle farmers fence off access to many watering holes and the invasive mesquite plant has been killing off grasses the zebra relies on for much of its diet.

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