Equus zebra zebra

Cape mountain zebra

GET INVOLVED in sustaining the ongoing work around the Cape mountain zebra.


The species sniffed extinction in the last century

 suffering extensively from overhunting and habitat loss, so much so that by the early 1900’s it had declined to a global population of less than 80 individuals. While its long-term survival is now assured through excellent population growth, and despite being listed as ‘least concern’– there remain major concerns as to the conservation of this species, specifically around the loss of genetic diversity through inbreeding and genetic drift.

Historically, Cape mountain zebra would have naturally occurred within the Western Cape all the way through to Craddock in the Eastern Cape and potentially even further. In recent history, being range restricted, the last three remaining populations were limited to just Mountain Zebra National Park (Cradock), Kamanassie and Gamkaberg nature reserves. Traditionally, it was thought best to keep the three populations genetically separated, however, the longer a population is isolated, the more restricted the breeding success (fecundity) becomes along with a significant loss of genetic diversity. Active metapopulation management is thus needed, and always will be needed, to ensure genetic diversity.

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Free-ranging breeding programme

Generally, an effort was made to increase their range, and individuals from Mountain Zebra National Park were distributed across the private sector causing numbers to increase, but resulting in over 90% of genetics stemming from one gene pool. Kammannassie and Gamkaberg Nature Reserves are crucial for the species genetic conservation, as these two subpopulations contain two thirds of the entire genotype. Sanbona is now leading the way in this specialist operation in reuniting all three Cape mountain zebra populations – a first in South Africa.

In a collaborative effort with state authorities and the private NGO sector, the project took flight in 2016 when Sanbona was presented with an opportunity to integrate all three founder populations in a free-ranging breeding programme. Genetically idled for nearly 100 years, this species was finally given the opportunity to bolster and perpetually increase their genetic linage, a world first.


2016 Cape Mountain Zebra were introduced onto Sanbona from De Hoop Nature Reserve and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve
2018 Additional Cape Mountain zebra were introduced from Koktyls, expanding the genetic diversity within the established population
2019 A male Cape Mountain zebra is translocated onto the reserve from the Gamkaberg for the first time onto Sanbona, and introduced to the established population. READ MORE
2020 Jake Britnell “Physiological and structural responses to marginality in the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra)” PhD ongoing – University of Manchester (Data collected 2018-2019). READ MORE


Gamkaberg introduction | Photo by Anthea Bothma

Gamkaberg introduction | Photo by Anthea Bothma

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Liesl Vorster

successfully translocated

In September 2016, 27 animals were successfully translocated onto the reserve from de Hoop Nature Reserve, which combined 2 relict founder populations: Cradock and Kammanassie genetics. They were released into the 25 000ha predator-free southern section of Sanbona. And by October a further 10 individuals stemming from pure Cradock genetics were also introduced.

The initial capture operation was joined by CapeNature, SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) and NZG (National Zoological Gardens) for world first baseline sample collection of various CMZ samples. The extensive sampling included: various skeletal and body measurements and images, skulls, lengths, girths, teeth, fluid swabs, fecal, hormonal, hair etc. The national database was being built. 

A couple of years later, in 2018, the reserve received an additional 10 individuals, further increasing the numbers and providing genetic diversity. After initial introduction challenges, the CMZ bred successfully and the Sanbona population was secure.

Integration Reserve

2021 Saw the identification of three stallions for removal from Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. Airlifted and quarantined for a month (to be cleared for AHS and genetic sampling) the stallions were tactically released into a prepared area aptly named: Sanbona East CMZ Integration Reserve. This kind of drastic conservation intervention was already discussed at a national level in the early 1980s, but never actioned due to various shortcomings. The project’s full potential was realized on 26th June 2022, when a family group of mares were carefully selected from the southern population for translocation, and introduced into the East CMZ Integration Reserve. For the first time in over 100 years- all three genetic ranges came together, just as it was pre-fragmentation.


Sanbona can now proudly call itself home to the most genetically diverse Cape mountain zebra population in the world.

A metapopulation milestone has been achieved, with the long term vision to increase genetic diversity, improve breeding rates, and eventually expand the range and distribution of this stately species.

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Liesl Vorster

a first in modern history

As a considered specialist, Sanbona has not stopped in its advancements for the species. This crucial step provides a critical research opportunity to study the adaption of CMZ in the Succulent Karoo, a first in modern history.

Koktyls introduction | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Marco Fitchet

De Hoop capture

Photo by Liesl Vorster