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A species genetically idled for nearly 100 years, has finally been given the opportunity to bolster and perpetually increase their genetic lineage. Clawed back from near extinction last century, the survival of the Cape mountain zebra heavily depended upon the contribution of only a few parks. While its long-term survival is now assured through excellent population growth, Cape mountain zebra is still listed as Vulnerable by CITIES and requires ongoing intervention and conservation efforts.
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, the animals would have seasonally migrated allowing them to genetically managed themselves within their natural historical distribution range. Over time with human interference, the big roaming populations of Cape mountain zebra were reduced and geographically restricted to only three small areas: Mountain Zebra National Park near Craddock where they occurred, Kamanassie near Oudtshoorn and in the Gamgeberg also close to Oudtshoorn.
To date, the Cradock and Kamanassie zebras have helped to further boost Cape mountain zebra numbers across the private sector. It was previously thought best practice to keep the Gamgeberg population genetically isolated, but time has shown otherwise: the longer a population is isolated, the more restricted its breeding success.
Sanbona Nature and Wilderness Reserve NPC, with the support of various entities, initiated a ground-breaking conservation plan to integrate all three Cape mountain zebra populations – a first in South Africa.
The project began in 2016 with the introduction of a population of Cradock and Kamanassie zebras onto the southern section of the reserve. Once established, Sanbona secured three stallions from the Gamgeberg population and introduced them into a closed section within the northern section of the reserve. The project’s full potential was realized on Sunday, 26th June when a family group of mares were carefully selected for translocation and introduced into the Gamgeberg stallions in the northern section. For the first time in over 100 years- all three genetic ranges will come together, just as it was pre-fragmentation.
General Manager Paul Vorster commented: “It is a huge win for the species, we are essentially turning back the clock from a genetic perspective. We are allowing animals that would have naturally come across one another to now find each other once again. It is a proud moment for us stand back and understand the far reaching impact that this could potentially have for the species and their genetics.”
Sanbona can now proudly call itself home to the most genetically diverse Cape mountain zebra population in South Africa. 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.