This article is provided courtesy of WildNet Africa.

The Rare and Endangered Cape Mountain Zebra : A Conservation Success Story

Wild Net Africa News, Oct. 23, 1998: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve announced the recent birth of three Cape mountain zebras in the Reserve, which is located at the foothills of the Cederberg mountains in the Western Cape. In conservation terms, the three foals are a significant addition to the surviving herds of the species, current recorded numbers totalling approximately 1,200 animals worldwide. In genetic terms this still represents a small population, but is a vast improvement on the just over 400 recorded in 1984.

The conservation status of the Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra), a rare and endangered mammal, was even worse than that of the bontebok, when in 1950, the estimated total number of Cape mountain zebra dropped as low as 91. It is considered the largest mammal in South Africa to have come so close to extinction, a fate which sadly awaited the quagga. The Cape mountain zebra has however become a conservation success story. But according to Peter Lloyd of the Scientific Services section of Cape Nature Conservation, the animal is not out of the woods yet.

"There are currently about thirteen formally conserved populations (i.e. in state conservation departments) of Cape mountain zebra left - too small a number to guarantee survival of the species. Conservation efforts by the private sector, like those of Bill and Mark McAdam at Bushmans Kloof, are therefore essential towards assisting Nature Conservation with this major challenge."

Bill McAdam, the owner of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve, has recently purchased another twenty Cape mountain zebras from a private seller in the Eastern Cape. He said: "This is an important adddition to our herd for the purpose of broadening the gene pool. The animals will be relocated to the Reserve at the end of October. By then Bushmans Kloof will be the proud owner of over 30 of these animals, probably the largest privately owned herd of Cape mountain zebra in the world."

Historically, Cape mountain zebra occurred throughout the Cape Fold Belt mountains and the edge of the Great Escarpment of the Cape Province, its fast-growing hooves an adaptation to the type of rocky terrain inhabited. Although Cape mountain zebra probably were never very numerous, numbers started dwindling as herds had to compete against sheep and cattle for grazing. Farmers began developing more land, establishing wheat production and other crops in areas which traditionally were home to Cape mountain zebra and the extinct quagga. Hunting was uncontrolled, and the Cape mountain zebra, with the quagga, were popular victims, its hide allegedly much sought after for the manufacturing of "grain bags".

Within thirty years, from the twenties to the fifties, the population of more than 400 animals had dropped to the all-time low of 91, when conservation efforts started showing a positive effect. The Cape Mountain Zebra exists in strong family groups. A breeding herd usually consists of a stallion with anything from one to five mares, and their foals. Very strong family bonds and long-term "relationships" exist within these herds, with a stallion staying with the same mares for periods as long as twenty years - unusual behaviour amongst our wild grazing animals. If a herd stallion is displaced, the herd is generally taken over as a unit by a new stallion. But, the stallion may need to go through a courtship of up to three years, before the mares in the herd will accept their new stud. Breeding is further delayed by a gestation period of a full year, which together with the animal's social and mating behaviour, result in numbers growing very slowly. Natural populations survived in three conservation areas: the Mountain Zebra National Park at Cradock, and the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve and Kamanassie Nature Reserve in the Oudtshoorn district. Herds were subsequently established in a number of other locations, including the privately owned Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve. Bushmans Kloof has become a sanctuary for 34 species of mammals, as well as 140 bird species and 755 plant species which have been identified in the Reserve. It is operated as an exclusive five star guest lodge with conference facilities, and the world's largest open-air art gallery - providing access to more than 125 pristine rock art sites dating back some 10,000 years.

For further information on the Cape mountain zebra, please call Peter Lloyd at Cape Nature Conservation at Tel: (021) 889-1560.

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