Ol Pejeta’s mission to safeguard vulnerable species extends far beyond black rhino and chimpanzees. Other vulnerable or endangered species that live here include elephant, African wild dog, cheetah, lion, leopard, hippo, Grevy’s zebra and the locally threatened Jackson’s hartebeest.
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus):
The African wild dog's multi-coloured coat earned it its Latin name, which translates to 'painted wolf'. This unusual coat and their large rounded ears are perhaps the two most distinguishable features that set it apart from domestic dogs. They are very social animals, and live in packs dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. They are ruthless and efficient hunters; packs of up to 20 can cooperate to take down prey as big as wildebeests. These animals are nomadic, which is why seeing them on Ol Pejeta is always a treat.
African wild dogs are listed as endangered by IUCN, with the wild population considered to be around 6,600. They are facing drastic habitat loss as human settlements expand, as well as persecution from livestock owners trying to protect their stock. Wild dogs are also vulnerable to many of the diseases that affect domestic dogs, and these can have devastating consequences on entire packs.
In May 2011, a pack of nine wild dogs started making a regular appearance on Ol Pejeta. Since then, the migrant population here has grown to an impressive 32 individuals spread across two packs. Between them, the packs have produced 18 pups. With a solid supply of prey and protected rangelands, Ol Pejeta is the ideal habitat for these animals. Through strategic fencing, we have worked hard to reduce the risk of the dogs running into conflict with neighbouring communities, and to reduce the risk of local pastoralists losing their cattle to hungry packs. We also work closely with the KWS veterinary units to attend to any injuries or illnesses. We even acted as wild dog lifeguards in 2014, when several puppies fell into a cattle trough and couldn’t get out.
Wild dogs have since moved out of Ol Pejeta and last GPS fix was at Lake Baringo. Occasionally, 1-3 individuals are sighted.
Did you know? African wild dogs have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet.
Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi):
The Grevy’s zebra is said to have undergone one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal, according to the IUCN. They are listed as endangered, with current global population estimates between 1,900 and 2,450. According to the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, there has been an 80% decline in global numbers over the past four decades.
Unlike the plains zebra, who range across most of sub-saharan Africa, the Grevy’s zebra is found only in Ethiopia, Kenya, and historically Somalia too. The Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem remains a vital area in the conservation of this species. In the early 1990’s, Ol Pejeta introduced 13 Grevy’s zebras and later, a further ten immigrated from neighbouring ranches, and inhabited the western sector of the Conservancy.
Three main threats face the Ol Pejeta Grevy's zebra population: excessive predation by lions; low population densities, and a skewed sex ratio. Studies of Ol Pejeta’s Grevy’s zebra population have shown that the survival rate of foals is just 8.2%. The skewed sex ratio has also been blamed for the occurrence of Grevy's/common hybrids. About 22 of these hybrids have been individually identified in the Conservancy. To try and tackle this problem, Ol Pejeta partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service in March 2011 to move eight Grevy’s zebra from the surrounding area to the 700 acre, predator-proof Endangered Species Enclosure. The move aimed to prevent hybridisation and provide the Grevy’s with a safe environment in which to reproduce. To diversify the gene pool in the enclosure, Ol Pejeta then partnered with nearby Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 2012 to move eight females from Lewa to Ol Pejeta.
Unfortunately, harsh dry conditions, limited pastures and water scarcity led to overcrowding, amplified oral-faecal transmission of infections and increased competition among grazers in the Endangered Species Enclosure. Therefore, a decision to move Grevy’s zebras to the Mount Kenya Wildlife Estate (MKWE) where conditions were more favourable was made.
The population currently stands at 19. Our Ecological Monitoring Unit will continue to monitor this population and keep track of breeding so as to avoid inbreeding.
Did you know? That Grevy's zebra can go without water for up to 5 days, making them perfectly suited to semi-arid environments.
Jackson’s Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel):
Easily distinguishable from other antelope, the Jackson’s hartebeest is a high shouldered, long-legged, short-necked animal with a long narrow face. Despite it sounding slightly awkward, the Jackson’s hartebeest can actually reach speeds of up to 70 kph.
Jackson’s hartebeest have small and mostly declining populations. The global population of Jackson’s hartebeest is unknown but in Laikipia their numbers are estimated to be between 700-1000 individuals. Ol Pejeta hosts an estimated 180 - 27% of the area’s population. Predation by lions and spotted hyenas is thought to be the biggest threat to the Ol Pejeta population. Ol Pejeta’s Ecological Monitoring Unit is currently working to collect data on the exact predation pressure facing the Conservancy’s hartebeest, and will use this to make plans for future conservation. One of the ways Ol Pejeta aims to establish a growing, viable population is to introduce some Jackson’s hartebeest into the predator-proof Endangered Species Enclosure.
Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus):
The fastest land mammal on earth is in decline. There are around 9,000 cheetah left in Africa, and populations have plummeted an estimated 90% over the last century. The main threats facing cheetah are habitat loss, disease and low genetic diversity.
Ol Pejeta is home to about 15 cheetah, each of whom can be individually identified by the Ecological Monitoring Unit by their unique tail rings. Close monitoring of the Ol Pejeta population will help our wildlife teams to better understand the status of the species and will help shape plans for cheetah conservation in Laikipia.
Who would win in a marathon, a cheetah or a wild dog?
Cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour, earning them the title of the fastest land mammal on earth. However, they can only sustain this speed in short sharp bursts, unlike, for example, the African wild dog. Wild dogs can sustain speeds of 45 kilometres an hour for very long distances, and if it were a marathon race, the wild dog would take first place over the cheetah any day. To help them run, a cheetah’s claws are only semi-retractable, making their footprints look more like a dogs than a cats.
Lions (Panthera leo):
While lions may be at the top of the big cat hierarchy, they are actually listed as vulnerable by IUCN, due to habitat loss, hunting, and poisoning.
A population reduction of 30-50% is suspected to have occurred over the last 20 years, leaving the estimated number of lions in Africa at between 23,000 - 39,000 today. Kenya’s lion population is said to be 2,280, with the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem hosting just over 15%.
Ol Pejeta has a current population of 79 lions in 6 different prides.
Lions are the most social of the big cats, and build their prides around related females who collectively hunt and rear offspring. Males are exiled from the pride between two and three years old. Young males ousted from their birth pride often form a coalition, as lions hunt more effectively in teams. When they are strong enough, these young males will challenge the dominant male of a pride in an attempt to win over the territory and the females.
Lions are an apex predator, and Ol Pejeta’s healthy lion population must be closely observed by the Ecological Monitoring Unit – to ensure that there is no disproportionate predator/prey balance in the Conservancy. Insufficient prey could lead to lions targeting rhino calves, or livestock; both of which would be disastrous. As lion populations are in decline, the data gathered by the Ecological Monitoring Unit on Ol Pejeta’s lions will also be essential to their conservation.