Vergelegen Wine Estate’s rare Rau quagga babies

The first eland calf at Vergelegen was born in April this year.

The first eland calf at Vergelegen was born in April this year.

Published Jun 9, 2024


With the onset of winter, the animal kingdom has been busy with its babies on the Vergelegen Wine Estate.

Eland, bontebok and rare Rau quagga youngsters have recently been born at the estate, which is home to a 1 900-hectare private nature reserve with the same conservation status as the Kruger National Park. The reserve, declared in 2019 following a lengthy project to clear 2 200 hectares of dense alien vegetation, has created optimal conditions for wildlife to thrive.

Vergelegen welcomed its first eland calf in April this year after the founding family of three cows and two neutered bulls was joined by a breeding bull. The original group were relocated from Elandsburg, Wellington, to Vergelegen in 2020.

The three Rau quagga newborns are a mare born in December 2022, a stallion in October 2023, and a second mare in November 2023. The original group of seven quagga – one stallion, five mares, and a foal – arrived at Vergelegen in May 2022.

The bontebok herd originally numbered 13 animals, which were relocated to the estate from the Helderberg Nature Reserve in 2008. The latest count, undertaken in April this year, revealed their numbers had expanded to over 90 antelope.

The young Rau quagga, who was born on December 14, with other members of the herd. The Vergelegen wine estate in the Western Cape said the arrival of the healthy youngster is a milestone in an ambitious project, initiated by conservationists in 1987, to breed an animal resembling the quagga. This quagga was hunted to extinction in the second half of the 19th century. Picture: Vergelegen

Vergelegen introduced black wildebeest and red hartebeest to the reserve in April this year.

The frisky new arrivals comprise 12 black wildebeest – two males and 10 females – from the Elandsberg Nature Reserve in Hermon, near Wellington.

They were accompanied by a family group of six red hartebeests (one male and five females), also from Hermon.

“The wildebeest have adapted well to their new environment,” said Vergelegen’s environmental project manager, Eben Olderwagen.

“They are still a little wild compared to the quagga and eland, but have become tamer since their arrival.”

The wildebeest and hartebeest have been acquired for wildlife diversity and breeding, while scientific studies of the bontebok, eland and quagga also contribute to scientific research.

Vergelegen’s bontebok herd has grown to over 90 antelope.

Dr Anja Wasilewski of Marburg University in Germany studied bonteboks’ social bonds, relationships, scent communication and use of space, which led to a greater understanding of their complex social systems.

The eland form part of the Gantouw Project, a veld management and ecological research project undertaken by the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust. Gantouw Project manager Petro Botha is also studying these animals for her PhD.

Quagga are a zebra sub-species that was hunted to extinction about 150 years ago.

The Rau quagga at Vergelegen form part of an ambitious project by a group of dedicated conservationists, who are selectively breeding from a founder population of southern plains zebras, to retrieve the genes responsible for the animals’ characteristic hide pattern.

They describe their breeding animals as Rau quagga, in memory of Reinhold Rau, who founded the project.

The Vergelegen wildlife enjoy natural grazing in the reserve. Vegetation includes grass, renosterbos, and Boland granite fynbos, with plentiful water from the Langkloof Dam.

The estate is also a long-serving participant in the Cape Leopard Trust project. Sightings of five different Cape leopards, caracal and honey badgers have been recorded on in-field cameras. The estate is also home to numerous small mammals such as duiker, grysbok and grey rhebok.

Vergelegen visitors can experience the reserve and learn about its environmental

initiatives on guided tours in a game-drive vehicle. The tour is weather permitting, departing from the wine-tasting centre at 10am. The

duration is approximately 1.5 hours at R500 a person, for a maximum of nine people. Contact 021 847 2122 or email [email protected].

Weekend Argus