Published on 05-Apr-2011
Validated on 01 Jul 2013
"Over time, as we gather more data, we hope to use the IBM SPSS software to gain further insights into ways to conserve Grévy’s zebra populations across northern Kenya." - Dr. Guy Parker, Head of Biodiversity Management, Marwell Wildlife
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Marwell Wildlife is a UK-based conservation charity that runs a 140-acre zoo in Hampshire. The zoo is home to more than 230 species of animals – many of which are critically endangered. Marwell manages conservation projects in both the UK and globally, and for the past 15 years has been working to conserve wild populations of Grévy’s zebra in northern Kenya. Last year, Marwell teamed up with Grévy’s Zebra Trust, St Louis Zoo, Lewa and Denver Zoo to survey populations of Grévy’s zebra in the remote far north of Kenya.
With an estimated population of just 2,500 individuals remaining in the wild, Grévy’s zebra is an endangered species, threatened by hunting and the encroachment of livestock into its traditional habitat. Marwell Wildlife, a registered conservation charity, wanted to find an effective way to survey the population of Grévy’s zebra in far northern Kenya – a vast and inaccessible region.
The Marwell team decided to complement traditional aerial and ground-count surveys by tapping into local knowledge about the zebra and interviewing pastoral communities across the region. Data was collected and fed into IBM® SPSS® Statistics for multivariate analysis, providing insight into attitudes to the zebra and highlighting possible conservation strategies.
Helps to secure a future for Grévy’s zebra by determining the main threats it faces in the wild. Explores critical interactions between ecosystems and investigates the relationship between nomadic herders and the zebra. Provides insight that helps Marwell to work with local communities to implement conservation measures that address threats and protect key resources – for example, providing modern medical supplies and education to discourage the use of the zebra in traditional medicines.
Marwell Wildlife is a UK-based conservation charity that runs a 140-acre zoo in Hampshire. The zoo is home to more than 230 species of animals – many of which are critically endangered.
Marwell manages conservation projects in both the UK and globally, and for the past 15 years has been working to conserve wild populations of Grévy’s zebra in northern Kenya. Last year, Marwell teamed up with Grévy’s Zebra Trust, St Louis Zoo, Lewa and Denver Zoo to survey populations of Grévy’s zebra in the remote far north of Kenya.
Conserving Grévy’s zebra
Grévy’s zebra is the largest species of zebra – in fact, the largest of all wild equines – and its range once spread through most of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. However, since the 1970s the zebra’s population has undergone a catastrophic decline, and its numbers are now estimated at approximately 2,500 individuals, living in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.
Over the years, regional conflicts, hunting and increasing numbers of livestock have driven the Grévy’s zebra out of much of its traditional habitat. It has become very difficult to gather even basic information about the current zebra population in far northern Kenya because this area is remote and dangerous.
Problems with traditional research methods
Tracking such a small number of animals across a range of approximately 10,000 square kilometres is a significant challenge for traditional research methods such as aerial surveys and ground counts, so the Marwell team wanted to find a new way to gather information to complement these approaches. To this end, the team created a sophisticated 40-question survey and began interviewing local communities in the region about their knowledge of and attitudes towards Grévy’s zebra.
“The nomadic herders of northern Kenya have considerable knowledge about local wildlife and migration patterns across the arid landscape; they themselves have to move their livestock to follow the rains, just as the zebra do,” explains Dr. Guy Parker, Head of Biodiversity Management at Marwell Wildlife. “We realised that talking to them was the most efficient way to gather information about the zebra population, and to investigate people’s attitudes towards the animal. The latter, we hoped, might reveal some strategies for more effective conservation.”
Choosing the right software
Dr. Parker had used IBM SPSS software to provide statistical analysis for previous projects over the course of his career, and was convinced that it would be the right option for this survey. Working with the IBM account team for Marwell Wildlife, he was able to demonstrate the value of the software and win approval from senior management for the purchase.
“In our opinion IBM SPSS Statistics is very well-suited to questionnaire information and has quite a following in the conservation field,” comments Dr. Parker. “We believe it’s very easy to use and offers a very comprehensive and powerful set of analytical tools to meet the needs of scientists and other researchers. The key is the ability it gives us to identify patterns and trends using multivariate analysis – which in this case enabled us to determine the influence of a wide range of socio-economic factors such as age, education level, sex and location on the respondents’ attitudes to Grévy’s zebra.”
Performing statistical analysis
Marwell’s researchers interviewed more than 220 herders and imported the data into IBM SPSS Statistics software, where it could be subjected to sophisticated statistical analysis.
“It might be a small set of data in a commercial sense,” says Dr. Parker, “but it’s a large set of data for us. We did most of the analysis ourselves; it’s very straightforward. We even did some quite complex regressions, looking at multivariate statistics and predictives.”
As well as providing valuable data on the numbers of Grévy’s zebra sighted in different areas, the analysis revealed the attitudes of the local communities to wildlife in general and the zebra in particular. Statistical analysis enabled the Marwell team to identify the most significant factors contributing to the zebra’s current population status.
Encouragingly, the results showed that many of the respondents had a positive attitude towards the zebra.
“Normally, when you have people living alongside wildlife, there tends to be some sort of conflict,” explains Dr. Parker. “In the case of the zebra, people recognised a range of benefits.”
For example, many of the local communities saw the zebra as a potential source of income from tourism, and also valued its ability to lead herders to good pastureland and water in times of drought. A significant proportion of respondents also appreciated the zebra for its natural beauty.
In addition to these positive attitudes, the survey confirmed the importance of suspected threats such as increasing numbers of livestock and the fact that the zebra is hunted for meat. It also revealed a number of other factors that were previously unknown – for example, that zebra fat is occasionally used in traditional medicines, which contributes to the toll taken by the hunters.
With a better appreciation of the positive and negative factors that impinge on the survival of Grévy’s zebra, the Marwell team has been able to identify several opportunities for proactive conservation, and has a better understanding of how to deploy its limited resources to obtain the best outcome for the zebra population. Two of the most important strategies are to encourage local communities to foster wildlife tourism, and to improve access to modern medicines, which might discourage the hunting of zebra for traditional medicines.
“We’re really just scratching the surface,” says Dr. Parker, explaining future plans to extend the survey to include data from other sources such as aerial surveys and remote cameras. “Over time, as we gather more data, we hope to use the IBM SPSS software to gain further insights into ways to conserve Grévy’s zebra populations across northern Kenya.”
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