Equus zebra zebra  (Cape mountain zebra)

Kaapse bergsebra; Kaapse bergkwagga; bergkwagga [Afrikaans]; Kapbergzebra [German]; zbre de montagne [French]; idauwa [isiXhosa]; daou [Khoikhoi]; dou [San]

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Equus zebra zebra  (Cape mountain zebra)

Cape mountain zebra, Mountain Zebra National Park, South Africa. [photo Francois Dreyer ]

Equus zebra zebra  (Cape mountain zebra) Equus zebra zebra  (Cape mountain zebra)

Cape mountain zebra, De Hoop Nature Reserve. [photo Duncan Robertson ]

Cape mountain zebra, De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

This subspecies of Mountain zebra is currently limited in distribution to a few national parks and reserves in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. It very nearly went extinct but was saved through the creation of the Mountain Zebra National Park. It inhabits mountainous areas with grass, up to an elevation of about 2000 m.

Identification

Although they resemble each other there are some differences between the two mountain zebra subspecies, the Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. Typically horse-like in appearance the Cape Mountain zebra is smaller than both the Plains zebra and the Hartmann’s Mountain zebra. The ground colour of the sleek coat is white with black stripes. The black stripes on the body are narrower than those on the rump and do not continue onto the belly, stopping abruptly on the lower side of the flanks. The underside is white. There is no shadow striping on the body. Diagnostic of the species is the grid-iron type pattern over the top of the tail formed by a series of transverse stripes. There is a narrow black stripe that runs along the mid line of the tail to the dark brown of black whisk. The stripes on the head are the narrowest. An erect mane runs along the top of the neck from ears to above the shoulders. The muzzle is black with russet-brown hair up the face over the nose area. The ears of the Cape Mountain Zebra are larger than those of the other zebra 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 is present under the throat, and is a diagnostic characteristic of the species.

Several theories have been proposed to try to explain the conspicuous black and white striping characteristic of the zebra coat. Earlier suggestions that the colouration functions as camouflage, confuses predators or deters flies have been discredited. Research suggests that the patterning may have a social function, as zebras appear to respond to its visual stimulation. It is thought that it stimulates mutual grooming in the preferred body areas, this will in turn facilitate bonding within groups.

Size

Shoulder height 1.3 m; weight 250-260 kg.

Dental Formula

 I C P M =

Distribution and habitat

The Cape Mountain zebra is endemic to the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, and confined to mountainous areas up to 2000 m, that provide suitable grasses for grazing and sufficient drinking water.  Historically they were distributed in the Cape mountains south of the Orange River, but they are now limited to a few nature reserves.

Behaviour

Cape Mountain zebra are non-territorial and gregarious, living in breeding herds that consist of a breeding stallion with 3-4 mares and their foals. Bachelor herds have a clear social hierarchy and may be joined by non-breeding fillies for brief periods. These zebra are diurnal with their most active periods being after dawn, later in the morning and then late afternoon. When threatened the dominant mare in the herd will lead the others away to safety, the stallion remains at the rear to defend the herd if necessary. Vocalizations include a high-pitched alarm call from the stallion and a protracted squeal by a bachelor stallion when challenged by the herd stallion.

Food

They are primarily grazers but will browse when the quality of the grass supply declines.

Reproduction

The gestation period is about 360 days - i.e. close on a year. Foals are born throughout the year, but foaling peaks in summer during the period of new vegetation growth. A single foal is born and is able to keep up with the herd within an hour of birth. It stays in close association with its mother for the first weeks of its life. Mares with new-born foals are aggressive towards other members in the herd and actively discourage contact between the foal and others. The foal remains with its mother until after the next sibling is born and then leaves the maternal herd. Fillies (young females) leave after about 19 months and colts (young males) after 2 years, they then join up with the bachelor herds. Fillies remain associated with a non-breeding bachelor herd for about 9 months and then join a breeding group herd, while colts remain with the bachelor group for an average of 2.5 years.

Life span

26 years (captivity).

Conservation

The dramatic colouration of zebra coats makes the skins desirable to hunters and they compete with domestic stock for grazing in certain areas. In the early 1930’s it became clear that the Cape Mountain zebra would become extinct unless it was given special conservation. A small herd was established in the Craddock district in 1937. The first herd was not successful but some more animals were added from an adjoining farm and over the years more land was acquired as part of the Mountain Zebra National Park. By 1980 the population stood at 220 animals and has remained fairly stable since. Each year up to 40 animals are transferred to re-establish breeding herds in other sites within their original distribution range.

There is very little evidence of hybridization between the two subspecies of mountain zebra but this is regarded as a major genetic threat and all possible actions should be taken to prevent it in the future.

The Mountain zebra (both subspecies) is classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (see link below). The continued existence of Cape mountain zebras is dependent on the survival of populations protected within national parks and reserves.

Links

Text by Denise Hamerton


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