Zebras: Stunning and Unique

Among the many animals to be viewed in South Africa’s spectacular game reserves, the zebra is arguably one of the most distinctive, with black and white stripes as unique to each individual animal as fingerprints are to human beings. Of the three main species of Zebras, the one most commonly found in South Africa is the Mountain Zebra, with its two subspecies being the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae).

As sociable animals, members of a family group may stay together for many years, with the herd including foals through to aging adults, but generally only having one mature stallion. Other stallions that have not been able to attract mares will form bachelor groups. Herds may join together at times, but family members will still remain close to one another within the larger herd. Scientists remain unsure as to why zebras have stripes, with the prevailing theory being that the stripes serve as a form of camouflage. This may particularly hold true when zebras are in a herd, as their stripes give the illusion of blending and making it difficult to distinguish one animal from another, thereby confusing predators. It could be too, that the zebra’s stripes deter insects that are attracted to large areas of one colour and so protect them from disease carrying pests. It has even been suggested that the unique patterning of zebras help them to recognize one another.

Still classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, the Cape Mountain Zebra population in South Africa has at least recovered from its “near extinction” status of the 1950s. Cape Mountain Zebras, as the name would suggest, are chiefly found in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape regions of South Africa. The Mountain Zebra National Park was set up in the Eastern Cape Province in 1937 as a sanctuary for the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra. With donations of animals from local farmers, the park was able to boost its breeding stock of zebras, and through careful conservation efforts there are now more than 350 zebras in the park. The Mountain Zebra National Park is also home to Cape buffalo, caracal, black rhino, black wildebeest, eland, red hartebeest, grey rhebok and gemsbok. Three lions were released into the park in April 2013, in an effort to increase the park’s biodiversity and tourism value.