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3 Births Bolster Numbers of Rare Mountain Zebras

  • Thursday, July 1, 1999

Cape mountain zebra were never very numerous to begin with, but back in 1950, their numbers had nosedived to a precarious 91. Intense conservation efforts began to reverse the decline, gradually raising their numbers to more than 400 by 1984 and to 1,200 today.

The birth of three mountain zebras (Equus zebra zebra) last fall in Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve in the foothills of South Africa's Cederberg Mountains has given the population a further boost. Even so, according to a report from WildNet Africa news service, the population is by no means in the clear. There is still "too small a number to guarantee survival of the species," said Peter Lloyd of the Cape Nature Conservation.

Once found in the arid mountain ranges of the South African Transvaal and on up into Angola, mountain zebras began dying out in the 1920s, as their traditional lands were given over the grazing for sheep and cattle or for crops. The animals were also popular targets for hunters.

Mountain zebras look much like the familiar plains zebra (Equus burchelli) and have even adapted to desert plains. They travel about in small, tightly knit family groups typically headed by a stallion. Mountain zebras have developed hooves that enable them to negotiate rocky terrain and to dig in dry streambeds for underground water. The remaining animals are found in fenced national parks and private reserves in South Africa.

Twenty mountain zebra have been relocated to Bushmans Kloop Wilderness Reserve, a move intended to broaden the gene pool of the species.

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