Cape mountain zebra foal born in the Table Mountain National Park

Cape mountain zebra foal born in the Table Mountain National Park

image Photo courtesy Blake Matheson

On July 21, 2011, a rare Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) foal was born in the Table Mountain National Park. This makes a great addition to the other wonderful creatures found here. The previous recorded birth of a Cape mountain zebra in the Table Mountain National Park was in 2001.

The species is officially listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as endangered.

According to Edge of Existence (Edge), “Populations have suffered massive declines over the past century as a result of excessive hunting for its skin and loss of habitat to agriculture,” and by the 1930s it was on the brink of extinction – a 1937 census counted just 45 individuals.

There are two sub-species of mountain zebra: the Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann’s zebra, according to South African History Online.

Furthermore, “The population has increased since the establishment of national parks in the localities where the few remaining zebra survived [and the] crossbreeding between the two sub-species is considered to be a potential threat in South Africa (where both sub-species occur), since this would decrease the genetic diversity of the species.”

The IUCN currently has 5 488 species of mammals on its list and is the world authority when it comes to up-to-date information on species in trouble.

The IUCN documents that the Cape mountain zebra originally inhabited the mountain regions of the Southern Cape. By 1922 it was understood that only 400 were still in existence; by 1950 they were extinct. A charitable donation of 11 Cape mountain zebras was made and, by 1984, the total was back up to 400. Since then, concerted efforts have been put into place to ensure that survival continues.

Conservation efforts

According to Edge, “Today, the majority of Cape mountain zebras occur in publicly owned, protected areas such as national parks and provincial nature reserves. Important populations occur in the Mountain Zebra National Park [and] the Karoo Nature Reserve.

“Conservation goals for the Cape mountain zebra are to increase population numbers by reinforcing existing populations, and by trans-locating groups to establish new populations within each sub-species’ former range. Mountain Zebra and Karoo National Park populations (two important Cape mountain zebra populations), in particular, should be expanded.”

Darwin Initiative

Says Durham University zebra conservation: “In October 2004 we initiated a project entitled Capacity building in mammal management for Western Cape nature reserves, funded by the Darwin Initiative.” The project’s objectives involve re-establishing the long-term monitoring of endangered Cape mountain zebra, developing rigorous methodology for monitoring flagship, threatened mammal species using “handheld computer technology”, developing census techniques for Western Cape provincial nature reserves, and integrating these results into a comprehensive database.

Bill McAdam, the owner of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve, recently purchased another 20 Cape mountain zebras from a private seller in the Eastern Cape. He said: “This is an important addition to our herd for the purpose of broadening the gene pool.”

The Cape mountain zebra

The Cape mountain zebra has a head and body length of 210cm to 260cm and can weigh 372kg. It has been discovered that “both sub-species are generally diurnal, which means they are most active during the early morning, and late afternoon to sunset. Individuals spend more than half the daylight period feeding, according to Edge.

“The ears of the Cape mountain zebra are larger than those of the other zebra sub-species. The hooves are narrow and compact in shape with very hard ventral surface; this is an adaptation to the hard and rocky terrain. A dewlap (a fold of loose skin that hangs from the neck or throat) is present and is a diagnostic characteristic of [both] of the sub-species,” according to Biodiversity Explorer.

They are also distinguishable by their stripe-width: their white stripes are far thinner than their black stripes.

Ongoing conservation efforts

Further research into the genetic status of the two sub-species, the effects of disease and improving census techniques are also important. Lastly, conflict between farmers and the zebras should be studied, with the aim of reducing poaching, according to Edge.

At the request of the South African National Parks, all visitors are encouraged to keep a fair distance from the foal in Table Mountain National Park, as it is being well-protected by its mother.

The best places to see the Cape Mountain Zebra in Southern Africa is the Mountain Zebra National Park in Cradock, Eastern Cape; Karoo National Park in Beaufort West, Western Cape; and the Bontebok National Park in Swellendam, Western Cape.

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