research projects, endangered species, conservation, research, education, grevy's zebra, plains zebra, princeton university
Zebra researcher Kaia Tombak studies the ecological reasons for social behaviour and their poop is an important element in her work.
She investigates how factors like predation pressure, resource availability, and parasite transmission risk may have shaped the evolution of the harem system in the plains zebra and the territorial, fission-fusion social system in the endangered Grevy’s zebra. To gather pieces of the puzzle, she is using new genetic techniques to answer basic questions like ‘what do zebras really eat?’, as well as tried and true methods for assessing health and parasite load to answer complicated questions like ‘how do body condition, parasite burden, and immune function interact in each species?’. The highly seasonal environment in central Kenya, where the two zebra species overlap in range, is an exciting place to watch them adjust their social behaviour as they deal with drought and unpredictable rains, dropping clues for why they behave the way they do.
Much of her research is conducted at Princeton and the challenges of exporting zebra poop for study is a significant road block.