Mountain Zebra
(Equus zebra)
The mountain zebra can be distinguished from other zebra species by the presence of a dewlap, or fold of skin on the throat. As the common name implies, this species is generally found on slopes and plateaus in mountainous areas. Populations have suffered massive declines over the past century as a result of excessive hunting for its skin and loss of habitat to agriculture. Some populations now appear to be stabilising, as a result of concerted conservation efforts at the international, national and local level.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Further promotion of conservancies in which farmers and other private landowners play an important role in protecting the species. Translocation into areas of former range.
Namibia, and western and southern South Africa. Some individuals may be present in southwestern Angola.
The function of a zebra’s stripes has been hotly debated. Many researchers state that the striped hide serves as camouflage by helping to break up the outline of the animals, particularly when they are viewed through long grass or the branches of bushes. Others argue that the stripes facilitate group cohesion and socialisation – there is some evidence that zebras are drawn closely to one another by such a pattern, while non-striped equids (horses and asses) maintain greater distances. It is believed that the equine ancestor of horses, asses and zebras was striped, but these have subsequently been lost during the evolution of the other two groups.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Zebras belong to the Equid (horse) family of the order Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates), a group of herbivores that also includes rhinoceroses and tapirs. The first horses appeared in the early Eocene of North America, around 56 million years ago. They were the size of small dogs and had several toes on each foot, unlike the single hoofs of modern horses. These early horses closely resembled the ancestors of rhinos and tapirs. They were browsers, and lived in forests and savannas. During the Miocene (25-8 mya) climate change led to a reduction in the amount of forest cover and an increase in grassland. This was a time of great evolutionary change for the early equids, with many groups evolving larger body sizes and adapting to a grazing lifestyle. Horse diversity peaked in the mid-Miocene (11-9.5 mya), with more than a dozen different genera evolving of many different sizes.

Since that time horse diversity has gradually decreased, with all forms becoming extinct with the exception of the modern horse genus, Equus. This genus first evolved during the North American Pliocene (4.5 to 1.8 million years ago). Members of this successful genus spread throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and South America during the first major glaciations of the late Pliocene (2.6 mya). However, in the late Pleistocene (around 12,000 years ago) a set of devastating extinctions killed off the horses, along with most other large mammals in North and South America. Today, wild horses are found only in parts of Africa and Asia. They are classified into four main groups within the genus Equus:

- Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi)
- Burchell's zebra (Equus burchelli)
- Mountain zebra (Equus zebra)

Asiatic wild asses:
- Kulan and onager (Equus hemionus)
- Kiang (Equus kiang)

African wild asses:
- African wild ass (Equus asinus)

Caballine (true) horses:
- Przewalski's horse (Equus caballus)
Head and body length: 210-260 cm
Tail length: 40-55 cm
Shoulder height: 116-150 cm
Weight: 240-372 kg
All three species of zebra are characterised by distinctive black and white stripes, the function of which is still being debated. The pattern of striping in mountain zebras is intermediate between that of Grevy’s zebra and Burchell’s zebra. The stripes on the body are generally narrower and more numerous than those of Burchell’s zebra, with no sign of shadow (faint) stripes between them. The wide horizontal stripes on the rump are broader than those of the other zebras. Mountain zebras are also the only zebra species to possess a dewlap, or skin fold on their throats, a feature that is most developed in males. The underparts are generally white, although there is a mid-ventral black stripe on the chest and belly. The Cape mountain zebra is usually smaller than Hartmann’s mountain zebra, with wider black stripes.
Both subspecies are generally diurnal, and are most active during the early morning and late afternoon to sunset. Individuals spend more than half the daylight period feeding. The diet consists mostly of grass, although browse (leaves and bark) is occasionally consumed as well. The animals generally drink once or twice per day. Hartmann’s mountain zebra have a grazing area of 6-20 km² during winter and considerably smaller summer areas. The home ranges of Cape mountain zebras are thought to range from around 3-16 km².

The animals generally occur in small non-territorial groups with overlapping home ranges. Most groups contain a single adult male stallion and one to five mares with their young. Sometimes groups join to form temporary herds of 30 or more individuals. Stallions have been known to maintain control of their group for more than 15 years, but they may be ousted by combat with a younger male. Bachelor groups consisting of young males or old stallions that have lost their groups commonly form. There is a strict hierarchy amongst males in bachelor groups, and between females in breeding groups.

Breeding occurs throughout the year with birth peaks occurring in December–January for Cape mountain zebra, and in November–April for Hartmann’s mountain zebra. Females give birth to a single young every 1-3 years, after a gestation period of approximately one year. The young are weaned at around 10 months and leave the natal group at 13-37 months. Males are capable of holding a breeding group at 5-6 years. Females produce their first foals at 3-6 years and may remain reproductively active until they are 24 years old.
As common name implies, mountain zebra are generally found on slopes and plateaus in mountainous areas. The Cape mountain zebra occurs at up to 2,000 m but moves to lower elevations in the winter. Hartmann’s mountain zebra sometimes wanders between mountains and salt flats.
Namibia, and western and southern South Africa. Some individuals may be present in southwestern Angola. The Cape mountain zebra occurs in south-western parts of South Africa (Eastern and Western Cape Provinces). Hartmann’s mountain zebra occurs in Namibia and the Namaqualand region of South Africa (Northern and Eastern Cape Provinces).
Population Estimate
In 1998 it was estimated that approximately 1,200 Cape mountain zebra survived, of which around 542 occurred in national parks, 491 in provincial nature reserves, and 165 in other reserves. The same year, 25,059 Hartmann’s mountain zebra were estimated to survive in Namibia. The size of the South African population was unknown, but probably numbered fewer than 500.
Population Trend
The population suffered massive declines over the past century, but now appears to be stabilising. Some populations are slowly increasing in response to conservation measures.
Classified as Endangered (EN A1b) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Cape Mountain zebra is classified as Endangered (EN C2a) and Hartmann’s mountain zebra is classified as Endangered (EN A1a).
The main threats to the species are from loss of habitat to agriculture, competition with domestic livestock, hunting and persecution. Cross-breeding between the two subspecies is considered to be a potential threat in South Africa (where both subspecies occur), since this would decrease the genetic diversity of the species.

The Cape mountain zebra suffered a devastating decline in South Africa during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as a result of excessive hunting for its skin and loss of habitat to agriculture. By the 1930s it was on the brink of extinction – a 1937 census counted just 45 individuals. The population has increased since the establishment of national parks in the localities where the few remaining zebra survived.

Hartmann’s mountain zebra suffered massive population declines during the 1950s and 1960s, primarily due to persecution from an expanding livestock industry, which regarded the zebras as a nuisance and a competitor for scarce grazing and water. This subspecies continues to come into conflict with livestock farmers, particularly during drought years, when resources are in short supply. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism has therefore encouraged the commercial use of mountain zebras to provide an incentive (or at least to promote tolerance) for their conservation on farmland. In Namibia, mountain zebras that occur on freehold land are de facto owned by the landholder. However, this policy has resulted in considerable off-take pressure in some areas and may even have causedlocalised population declines.
Conservation Underway
The Cape mountain zebra is listed on Appendix I of CITES, and Hartmann’s zebra is listed on Appendix II of CITES. Hartmann’s mountain zebra is a Protected Species in Namibia, with all forms of use and trade subject to permit control.

Today, the majority of Cape mountain zebras occur in publicly-owned protected areas such as national parks and provincial nature reserves. Important populations occur in the Mountain Zebra National Park (est. 1937), the Karoo Nature Reserve, the Gamka Mountain (Provincial) Nature Reserve (est. 1971), and the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, which was restocked with zebra from Mountain Zebra National Park after its original population was driven to extinction in the early 1980s. Additional populations occur in at least ten further protected areas. The numbers maintained by private landowners have increased considerably in recent years. Many of the privately owned populations of Cape mountain zebras have increased to the extent that the owners are making animals available for re-establishment in new areas. All populations of the Cape mountain zebra are monitored by Cape Nature Conservation and South Africa National Parks, who maintain a comprehensive database on the status of the subspecies. The population of this subspecies is increasing at a rate of approximately 9.6% per year as a result of conservation efforts.

In Namibia, more than 3,600 Hartmann’s zebra occur in four protected areas larger than 1,000 km² (Skeleton Coast Park, Etosha National Park, Namib-Naukluft Park - the most important protected area for this subspecies - and Ai-Ais-Hunsberg Park complex). This subspecies also occurs in a number of smaller parks and on communal lands. Conservancies cover almost all of Hartmann’s zebra’s range in northwestern Namibia. Conservancies aim to manage wildlife sustainably, and typically become responsible for guarding and monitoring wildlife populations and allocating land and other resources to wildlife. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) authorises off-takes on the basis of quota submissions from conservancies and on population monitoring conducted by (MET). In northwest Namibia, around 7,000 km² of mountain zebra habitat already forms part of registered conservancies, and new conservancies are also being established.

Virtually all Hartmann’s zebra in South Africa were originally reintroduced from Namibian stock. A small number occur in Richtersveld National Park, which borders the Ai-Ais Nature Reserve in Namibia. A few occur on private land in Western Cape Province, and the species is present in two nature reserves in Eastern Cape Province and also on a number of private properties.
Conservation Proposed
Conservation goals for the Cape mountain zebra are to increase population numbers by reinforcing existing populations and by translocating groups to establish new populations within each subpecies’ former range. Mountain Zebra and Karoo National Park populations (two important cape mountain zebra populations) in particular, should be expanded.

Conservancies on commercial farmland are expected to play an increasingly important role in the protection of mountain zebra habitat. The development of capacity to conserve mountain zebras in the private sector should be encouraged. The conservation agencies need to cooperate to provide information on key conservation issues to private owners, for example, in the form of circulars and articles in the popular conservation literature. This is particularly important for Hartmann’s zebra in South Africa, where more than 80 percent are in the hands of private landowners.

The protected are system in Namibia should be improved, with better controls for poaching introduced. Promotion of conservancies on communal land should be encouraged here. Promoting maintenance of mountain zebras on farmland is also important since more than 50 percent of national population occurring on several hundred individually managed farms. This is particularly important during times of drought when competition between zebras and livestock may become significant.

Translocation guidelines must be made widely available to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated (e.g. not translocating enough individuals) Managers and those providing animals for reintroductions are also encouraged to maintain distance between populations of Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann's mountain zebra, to prevent interbreeding and subsequent loss of genetic diversity.

Further research into the genetic status of the two subspecies, the effects of disease and the improvement of censusing techniques are also important. Lastly, conflict between farmers and the zebras should be studied, with the aim of reducing poaching.
IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group
This collaboration aims to understanding the threats facing wild equids and ensure the long term survival of wild equid species.

Capacity building in mammal management for Western Cape nature reserves
A Darwin Initiative project carried out by researchers from Durham University. The project aims to re-establish long-term monitoring of endangered Cape mountain zebra at De Hoop Provincial Nature Reserve, and establish monitoring at Kammanassie Provincial Nature Reserve and Gamkaberg Provincial Nature Reserve, in line with IUCN (2002) recommendations for successful management of small populations.
Equid Specialist Group 1996. Equus zebra. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 15 December 2006.

Novellie, P., Lindeque, M. Lindeque, P. Lloyd, P. and Koen, J. 2002. Status and Action Plan for the Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra). In: Moehlman, P.D. (ed.) Equids: Zebras, Asses, and Horses: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SCC Equid Specialist Group, IUCN (The World Conservation Union), Gland Switzerland and Cambridge.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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