Aug. 31 (UPI) -- What happens to endangered prey when a top predator makes a comeback?
In central Kenya, lions are making a resurgence. Some conservationists have expressed concern that the comeback of the lion will jeopardize the health of another imperiled species, the Grevy's zebra.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the lion as threatened. Grevy's zebra, Equus grevyi, is considered endangered. There are only an estimated 2,680 Grevy's zebras in East Africa. The largest living wild equid is found only in Kenya and Ethiopia. Half of all specimens live in Kenya's Laikipa County.
In the past, livestock herders in Laikipa killed lions in retaliation for attacks on their animals. But with the decline in herding and the growth of ecotourism, retaliatory killings and poisonings are infrequent. As a result, the region's lion population is increasing.
To determine whether the region's resurgent lion population has depressed zebra numbers, scientists analyzed satellite telemetry data.
The new analysis showed lions preyed on both Grevy's zebras and plains zebras, Equus quagga, less than scientists predicted. The data -- detailed in the journal PLOS One -- suggests the Grevy's zebra population continues to stabilize.
"Recruitment rate to the population has tripled since 2004, making it unlikely that lions are having an impact on Grevy's zebras," researchers wrote in their paper. "In Laikipia County, competitive displacement by livestock ... are most likely the predominant threats to Grevy's Zebra recovery."