There was high excitement at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve last week as ‘GB9’ – a dashing and debonair Cape Mountain Zebra stallion – stepped out onto his new home turf on the reserve in the Little Karoo.
It is always a thrill to see the iconic zebra on your African safari, with sightings of the Cape mountain Zebra being extra special as they came so very close to extinction.
In a joint conservation-in-action initiative by Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and CapeNature, GB9 will play a major role in the Cape Mountain Zebra Biodiversity Management Plan by growing and improving the integrity of the existing gene pool on the reserve, thereby ensuring the viability and longevity of this endangered subspecies.
Cape Mountain Zebras were previously classified as Critically Endangered but thanks to public and private conservation efforts, the population, which was once reduced to around 60, now stands at about 5,000. With inbreeding being the biggest threat to their long-term survival, GB9’s arrival is a welcomed addition in a time of overwhelming biodiversity loss, described by some conservation experts as “the sixth mass extinction”.
So, what makes these zebras so special? Endemic zebras fall into three genetic lineages, the Gamkaberg, Kammanassie and Cradock lineages – all of which have a low genetic range. The Cradock lineage is the most abundant and widespread, but the Gamkaberg and Kammanassie lineages occur only on the nature reserves bearing those names. The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, near Calitzdorp (also in the Little Karoo) contains one-third of the gene pool, but thanks to an oblivious farmer several were poached back in 1974, of the already very diminished zebra population, only six were left to reproduce thereby creating a genetic bottleneck and severe inbreeding.
In May this year an opportunity presented itself to add the rare Gamkaberg gene to the mix. A herd of Eland managed to break out of the Gamkaberg Reserve with six zebras in hot pursuit! Five were part of the same breeding herd so were rounded up and returned while our lone ranger, “bachelor GB9”, was captured and relocated along with his precious genes. After undergoing the obligatory African Horse Sickness quarantine period, he was readied for the journey to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
Sanbona is already home to more than 50 Cape Mountain Zebras who form a mix of two of the three lineages – Cradock and Kammanassie. Now with the GB9’s Gamkaberg genes, genetic diversity will be the order of the day!
It is a privilege for us at Sanbona to provide sanctuary to several of these vulnerable zebras, and with continued efforts and partnerships with organizations like CapeNature, the long-term survival of the species is assured.