Over the past three centuries, Cape mountain zebras faced drastic declines due to hunting and habitat destruction, resulting in isolated populations and genetic drift. While concerted conservation efforts led to a remarkable recovery, one small stock showed signs of inbreeding, preventing the removal of the Cape mountain zebra from the IUCN Red List.
Gamkaberg Nature Reserve near Calitzdorp was a refuge for the isolated zebra stock, but a tragic incident in 1974, where seven zebras were poached, exacerbated the genetic challenge.
The expansion of the reserve through initiatives by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa has fostered growth, yet the genetic issue persisted.
To address this challenge, CapeNature and Sanbona Wildlife Reserve joined forces, consulting experts from SANBI and the University of Venda to formulate a genetic rescue plan. Sanbona, with its vast 62,000 ha expanse at the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains, emerged as the perfect site for the initiative.
Sanbona already housed a growing Cape mountain zebra population, including individuals from mixed Cradock and Kammanassie stock. In 2021, the genetic rescue project reached a pivotal point with the translocation of three stallions from Gamkaberg to Sanbona's dedicated genetic rescue camp. The following year, Sanbona mares, representing Cradock and De Hoop origin, joined the camp.
Despite setbacks including the loss of two stallions, five-year-old GB42 emerged as the hero of the genetic rescue project. Recently, Sanbona's ecologist, Liesl Vorster, spotted GB42 with a Cradock mare and their unique offspring, the world's only Cape mountain zebra containing both Cradock and Gamkaberg genes.
The birth of this extraordinary foal raises hopes for the restoration of lost genetic diversity in the Cape mountain zebra species. Conservationists are now keenly observing this little herd, anticipating further unions that may merge all three genetic stocks, ensuring a robust future for this endangered species.
Image Caption: The only Cape mountain zebra foal in the world with a combination of Cradock and Gamkaberg genes. Credit: Liesl Vorster, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.