CAPE MOUNTIAN ZEBRA

Equus zebra zebra

Cape mountain zebra

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Cape mountain zebras are a dazzling conservation success story

The species sniffed extinction in the last century, and while its long-term survival is now assured through excellent population growth, it’s still listed as Vulnerable by CITIES so requires ongoing conservation. Being range restricted, the last three remaining populations were limited to Mountain Zebra National Park (Cradock), Kamanassie and Gamkaberg nature reserves. These three parks were all established to protect the last remaining Cape mountain zebra. 

To date, only the Cradock zebras have substantially increased in number. It is also this Cradock stock that has helped to further boost Cape mountain zebra numbers across the private sector. Historically, it was thought best practice to keep populations genetically isolated, but time has shown otherwise: the longer a population is isolated, the more restricted its breeding success. Sanbona is now part of a ground-breaking conservation initiative to integrate all three Cape mountain zebra populations – a first in South Africa.

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Conservation success

Sanbona’s trajectory to conservation success with Cape mountain zebra started in 2016. It assisted CapeNature to remove select family groups of these animals living on farmland around its De Hoop Nature Reserve. In total, 28 animals were captured and translocated by Sanbona and released onto the 25 000ha predator-free southern section of Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. These newcomers with Cradock-Kamanassie origin joined two resident Cape mountain zebras. Then in 2018, another 10 animals were also introduced to the Sanbona population to provide genetic diversity and breeding competition. The animals formed groups and, after the initial introduction challenges, have bred successfully. Most groups now consist of mixed Cradock-Kamanassie genetics. This meant that the Sanbona population was secure and will contribute to genetic diversity and bolster sub-populations in other areas.

TRANSLOCATION TIMELINE

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

Increasing genetic diversity

Again, in 2021, Sanbona is assisting CapeNature to achieve further management goals with the Gamkaberg population, where too many stallions are limiting breeding and herd growth. This is the only population that has not had an opportunity to cross breed with the other two sources. Sanbona’s proven track record, along with available space and resources, will assist CapeNature to relocate several Gamkaberg stallions onto Sanbona. These stallions will first be quarantined, before introducing them to a herd of Sanbona’s Cradock-Kammanasie mares in a separate management area to the already established population – also predator free.

This move will incorporate the Gamkaberg genetics into the mix to blend all three sub-populations, without diluting the Gamkaberg gene pool. Sanbona will then be home to the most genetically diverse Cape mountain zebra population in South Africa. A metapopulation milestone will also be achieved by increasing genetic diversity, improving breeding rates, and expanding the range and distribution of this stately species.

create a viable population
of Cape mountain zebra

In anticipation of this, in 2020 Sanbona relocated all plains zebra from the northern section of the reserve to create a space purely focused on Cape mountain zebra. This area does have predators, but the risk will serve to create a viable, savvy population of Cape mountain zebra – with survival of the fittest and smartest.

Monitoring of animals in the predator area and the smaller, genetic mixing camps will be intense for the first few months, and an identity kit for each animal will be created. Ongoing monitoring – through observation, GPS collars and camera traps – will then reveal herd changes and animal health, habitat use and breeding rates.

 

A further goal of this project is to better understand the feeding habits and preferences of Cape mountain zebra on Succulent Karoo and Renosterveld. This will be done through dung analysis, which is labour intensive but doesn’t require direct observation. In addition, this project will facilitate further movement of Cape mountain zebra family groups to different areas of the reserve, and so refresh dynamics throughout. And there are massive academic research opportunities through this project too. 

 

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Liesl Vorster

conservATION collaborations 

Sanbona believes that the future of long-term sustainable conservation lies in collaborations between the private sector and provincial and national organizations, along with universities and specialist donors. Ironically, this path is seldom pursued or realised, so this project may just be another flagship example of what is possible when expert efforts are combined. That would be a proud mission accomplished too. 

Koktyls introduction | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Liesl Vorster

Photo by Marco Fitchet

De Hoop capture

Photo by Liesl Vorster