White Oak Conservation in northeastern Florida is 17,000 acres dedicated to wildlife conservation. There are rhinos, gazelles, cheetahs, and other animals you'd expect to find on an African safari and not necessarily near popular Florida beaches. The refuge is one of the most well-known conservation areas in North America. And while there are 30 different animal species that call the land home, the spotlight is currently on four brand new babies. This summer welcomed four Grevy's zebra foals, and the healthy newcomers to the herd are already an important part of their species' survival. Plus, they're too adorable not to love.
The zebra foals, three males and one female, were born in June and July. They join the existing herd of Grevy's zebras that have been a part of White Oak Conservation since 1977. Conservationists are breeding the zebras as part of an effort to maintain their at-risk population. With fewer than 2,000 Grevy's zebras left in the wild, the four new foals represent hope for the most endangered zebra species in the world.
The Grevy's Zebra
At a glance, most people would say all zebras look the same. They have stripes, right? There are, however, three different subspecies of zebras that live in different environments around the world. The Grevy's zebra (named after a French president) is the largest of the three subspecies and has a narrow head and adorably large ears. In the wild, they currently exist in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya.
The plains zebra and mountain zebra are listed as not endangered and vulnerable respectively, but the more rare Grevy's zebra is at risk of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List classified the rare zebras as "endangered" after their population went into a downward spiral.
In the 1970s, there were an estimated 15,000 Grevy's zebras in the wild. That population, however, declined by 75% moving toward the 21st century. The biggest threat facing the species is habitat loss. They compete against livestock for grazing land and are regularly pushed out of their territory. The zebras also battle hunting, predation, and disease.
An Assurance Population
With the future of the wild Grevy's zebra still at risk, conservation areas including White Oak Conservation are prioritizing what's called "assurance populations." An assurance population is a group of genetically diverse animals that are protected to ensure that if the wild population disappears, there is still a sustainable number of animals to continue the fight for survival.
The four new Florida foals are part of that assurance population that will contribute to their specie's long-term survival. They are all currently healthy and will stay close to their mothers for about the next year and a half. When their mothers have new foals, the maturing zebras will take their official places within the herd. The zebra herd at the refuge is the same as what it would be in the wild. The animals form their own social groups and have their own protected territory.
Not only do the four Florida foals support their endangered population, they're also raising awareness about the critical issues surrounding wildlife conservation. Their cute faces are spreading the message that conservation matters, and animals deserve our protection.
Check out White Oak Conservation on Facebook for more information.
Featured photo via Facebook/White Oak Conservation
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