The Cape mountain zebra thrived in the Western Cape until the European settlers came along and nearly decimated their populations. The last surviving pockets of Cape mountain zebra were said to be wiped out by a trigger-happy farmer back in the 1970s.
Today, through the biggest conservation efforts in South African history, there are an estimated 6 000 of these animals left.
Sounds like a great comeback from the brink of extinction, right?
Not quite, friends. In a report by News24, the future of this zebra species is far bleaker than we imagined:
Because of the severe drop in numbers, as well as the isolation of remaining populations, the majority of the animals alive today lack the genetic diversity to guarantee the species’ long-term survival.
There is, however, one possible saving grace, and the tiny population at the Gamkaberg holds the key.
Take a look at this video for more info:
Perhaps this is the solution we’ve all been waiting for:
Scientists soon realised that these animals had the ability to secure the future of the entire species.
“So it makes the animals that are here at Gamkaberg very special. They are super rare and super special,” says CapeNature mammal ecologist Coral Birss.
“Because they hold a third of the genetic material, it indicates to us that if we mix them with either of the other source populations that we will potentially be able to restore genetic diversity and therefore address some of the associated low genetic diversity manifestations like disease resistance or how their breeding success is affected.
But a fire tearing through the reserve in 2017 means there are only 25 Gamkaberg zebras left roaming on the 40 000 hectare area.
Eish. Not good for their Cape Mountain cousins.
The clock is ticking for conservationists. CapeNature is now working with partners including the World Wildlife Fund in order to extend the reserve. An additional 1 000ha of low-lying land has also been acquired to improve the quality of habitat available.
Scientists are still working their arses off trying to comb through the logistics involved in inter-breeding and translocation to help the species as a whole:
Birss says the first step, however, is to try and get fresh information on the genetic make-up of the Gamkaberg survivors.
“The work on which we base the genetic status is a bit old, so we have identified that we need to update that… and then look at what the mechanisms are that we can implement towards translocation and mixing.”
It sounds like it’s going to be a hectic task to ensure that these animals survive, but Birss reckons that it’ll be worthwhile for the Western Cape and the country as a whole:
You have a large area of land and you use it as an iconic species you know that there’s so much underneath that… that is also protected.
The number of zebras that you can sustain becomes indicative of how biodiversity is faring overall.
The rate of environmental loss that South Africa experienced in the last 400 years basically stemmed from the Western Cape and this is where we can start turning it around in terms of what we’ve lost in terms of our biodiversity.
Good luck to you, science boffins, we’re counting on you to save these majestic animals.
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