Today, surviving natural populations of Cape Mountain Zebra occur only in Mountain Zebra National Park, Gamka Mountain Reserve, and the Kamanassie mountains. Populations have been reintroduced to various parts of their former range, including Karoo National Park, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Karoo Nature Reserve (recently proclaimed as the Camdeboo National Park), Commando Drift Nature Reserve, Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, Tsolwana Nature Reserve. and Gariep Dam Nature Reserve (Lloyd 2002; Novellie et al. 2002).
In Namibia, the establishment of artificial waterpoints have allowed Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra to occupy previously unsuitable habitat, such that their present range differs from that in historical times. Joubert (1973) gave their range as discontinuously distributed in four populations: from Kunene Province southwards to the Ugab River and east to the Outjo District; the Erongo Mountains; on the escarpment from the Swakop River southwards to the Naukluft Mountains and eastward along the Kuiseb and Gaub drainages into the Khomas Hochland; and the Fish River Canyon and Huns Mountains near the Orange River in the south. Hartmann's Mountain Zebra are also established in three conservation areas in the Northern Cape, South Africa: Richtersveld and Augrabies National Parks and Goegap Provincial Nature Reserve. Hartmann’s Mountain zebra may still survive in Angola, in Iona National Park(Crawford-Cabral and Verissimo 2005). Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras have also been introduced outside of their range in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape (Novellie et al. 2002).
There are two distinct subspecies of mountain zebras (Equus zebra): Cape mountain zebras, E. z. zebra, and Hartmann's mountain zebras, E. z. hartmannae. Cape mountain zebras are found only in South Africa. Natural populations are found in the Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP), Gamka Mountain Reserve, and in the Kamanassie Mountains. Populations of Cape mountain zebras have also been established in Karoo National Park, Karoo Nature Reserve, Commando Drift Nature Reserve, De Hoop Nature Reserve, and Tsolwana Game Ranch. Hartmann’s mountain zebras range from South West Africa into extreme southwest Angola. Their distribution is highly discontinuous.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Equus zebra is a fairly large-sized, striped member of the horse family. Adult mountain zebras have a head and body length of 210 to 260 cm, and a tail length of 40 to 55 cm. Shoulder height ranges from 116 to 150 cm. Mountain zebras typically weigh between 240 and 372 kg. Adult Cape mountain zebra mares average 234 kg and stallions usually weigh 250 to 260 kg. Adult Hartmann's mountain zebrasare slightly larger, with mares averaging 276 kg, and stallions averaging 298 kg. Stallions 7 years and older have a mean weight of 343 kg, and a mean shoulder height of 144.5 cm.
The ground color on the body is white, with black to deep brown stripes which continue through the short, erect mane. The stripes on the head and body are narrow and more numerous than those on the rump, and the legs are striped to the hooves. The posterior portion of the dorsal stripe forms a distinctive “gridiron” pattern that continues onto the tail and extends to the whisk near the tip. The muzzle is black.
Both subspecies of E. zebra are good climbers and have exceptionally hard and pointed hooves compared to other equines. The most distinguishing characteristic is the presence of a dewlap, or fold of skin, hanging from the throat.
The color pattern of E. zebra is intermediate between Burchell’s zebra and Grevy’s zebra. Equus zebra can be distinguished from E. burchelli by having a dewlap; narrower and more numerous stripes on the head and body; broader stripes on the hindquarters with no “shadow” stripes; a “gridiron” pattern on the rump; white under-parts with a mid-ventral black stripe on the chest and belly; and ears that are more than 200 mm long.
Cape mountain zebras are slightly smaller than Hartmann’s mountain zebras. The upper 2 to 3 dark stripes on the rump are very broad, whereas they are less so in Hartmann’s mountain zebras, where some of the white stripes may be more broad than the dark stripes.
Range mass: 240 to 372 kg.
Range length: 210 to 260 cm.
Average length: 220 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Mountain zebras inhabit slopes and plateaus in mountainous areas of South Africa and Namibia (South West Africa). Cape mountain zebras may occur up to 2,000 meters above sea level, but move to lower elevations in the winter. The habitat in South Africa provides regular precipitation and a fairly constant food-supply year round. Hartmann’s mountain zebras differ from Cape mountain zebras in that they occupy an arid region in a mountainous transition zone on the edge of the Namib Desert. Surface water is patchy in this area and as a result, E. z. hartmannae must wander between the mountains and sand flats in order to find patches of grass.
Range elevation: 2,000 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Both subspecies of mountain zebra are herbivorous. The primary diet consists of grass but also includes browse. In MZNP, E. z. zebra directs its selection at greener plant species with a high leaf:stalk ratio. Even so, they are still coarse grazers and will exploit both stem and leaf parts of chosen grasses. Grobler (1983) found that they feed on only 26% of the available plants, and only 7 of 17 grass species present at feeding sites. The primary grass eaten is Themeda triandra. Other grasses consumed include: Cymbopogon plurinodis, Heteropogon contortus, Setaria neglecta, and Enneapogon scoparius. Cape mountain zebras of all ages also frequent mineral licks, especially during the summer.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
In addition to serving as prey for certain mammalian carnivores, mountain zebras also serve as hosts for a variety of tick, bot-fly, nematode, and cestode species. They also associate with several species of birds that presumably remove external parasites from them. As grazers, mountain zebras may also aid in seed dispersal, and the creation of habitat for smaller animals including mesopredators.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat
- palewinged starling Onychognathus nabouroup
- redwinged starling Onychognathus morio
- forktailed drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
- bot flies Gasterophilus sp.
- ixodid ticks Rhipicephalus sp.
- nematodes Cyathostomum sp.
The dominant stallion alerts other herd members to danger with a high-pitched alarm call or snort. He then takes up a defensive position to the rear of the herd while a mare, usually the one with the youngest foal, leads the rest of the herd away. Flight is the most common response to threat, and is sometimes accompanied by a defensive kick. Pulling the ears flat back against the head, lashing the tail, and lowering the head with the neck outstretched and teeth bared, is the form taken for threat behavior. Although fighting is rarely seen, it consists of biting at the opponent's head, neck, legs, and hindquarters. Mountain zebras act in response to the flight and or alarm signals of black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou). However, they rarely respond to similar signals of smaller antelope species.
Especially at high temperatures, the striped pattern of E. zebra may serve as camouflage, as an adaptation to to the resultant "waviness" of the air (Klingel, 1990). At a distance of a few hundred yards, the stripes make a mountain zebra appear indistinct. To some degree, stripes may also provide protection against blood-sucking insects that transmit disease such as bot-flies and ticks.
- lions (Panthera leo)
- leopards (Panthera pardus)
- cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
- spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta)
- hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Mountain zebras communicate using mainly visual and auditory cues. Because no two individuals have identical stripe patterns, body pattern can be used for individual indentification. At close range, individuals can also be recognized by smell.
Among all members of the horse family, the positioning of the ears, the stretching of the corners of the mouth, the exposure of the teeth, the opening of the mouth, and the positioning of the head and tail serve as signals of an individuals’ mood or intentions. Ears laid flat back against the head signal threat, especially when accompanied by a lowered head and open mouth. During greeting rituals, mountain zebras touch noses and communicate rank by the positioning of the ears. As a gesture of inferiority, younger individuals hold their ears to the side and make chewing motions with exposed incisors when greeting adults.
Mountain zebras make a variety of vocalizations. Stallions make a high-pitched alarm call or snort to alert herd members to danger. Bachelor stallions make a drawn-out squeal when confronted by a herd stallion. In order to express contentment when feeding, mountain zebras make a soft sound caused by forcing air between closed lips.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The life span of mountain zebras in the wild is usually 20 or more years. The oldest documented mountain zebra in captivity is an E. z. hartmannae that was 29 years and 6 months.
Status: captivity: 29.5 (high) years.
Status: wild: 20 years.
Status: captivity: 30 (high) years.
Status: wild: 24.0 years.
Status: wild: 20.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Mountain zebras have a polygynous mating system. They form small breeding herds that consist of one adult stallion and 1 to 5 mares with young. Breeding herds remain stable over many years and mares usually remain in a herd for life.
The mating system of E. zebra results in a surplus of stallions. These stallions join bachelor groups which form “the reservoir from which herd stallions are recruited.” (Penzhorn 1988) New breeding bands may be formed when a bachelor stallion obtains a young mare from a maternal herd, or an older mare from a fragmented herd, although the latter is not as common.
If a dominant stallion is successfully driven away from his herd by a challenging stallion, the herd is taken over as a unit by the newcomer. Serious fighting, including kicking and biting, may occur when another stallion attempts to take over a herd.
Herd stallions approach each other and perform a challenge ritual when two breeding herds come into contact. The challenge ritual consists of nasonasal and nasogential contact, and body rubbing. Both stallions then continue grazing and will eventually move back to their own herds. Sometimes herds will join to form larger temporary populations.
Mating System: polygynous
The breeding season of mountain zebras lasts throughout the year. In E. z. zebra, there is a birth peak from December to February. In E. z. harmannae, births peak from November to April.
The gestation period for both subspecies is approximately one year, and one foal is produced per breeding season. Foals are about 25 kg at birth, and head and body length is about 120 cm. Foals are weaned at around 10 months of age.
The age of sexual maturity in E. zebra differs between males and females. The testes of E. z. hartmannae reach maximum size at approximately 42 months of age. Males are capable of aquiring and holding a herd at 5 to 6 years. Female mountain zebras first produce foals at between 3 and 6 years of age, with the mean age at first foaling being 66.5 months. Females have an inter-birth interval of 1 to 3 years, and may remain reproductively active until about 24 years of age.
Breeding interval: Mountain zebras breed every 1 to 3 years.
Breeding season: Copulation occurs year-round.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 365 days.
Average weaning age: 10 months.
Range time to independence: 13 to 37 months.
Average time to independence: 22 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 26 to 72 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 66.5 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 42 (low) months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous ; post-partum estrous
Average birth mass: 35000 g.
Average gestation period: 362 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Mountain zebra young are born well developed. For the first few weeks, foals remain close to their dams (mothers). The dam prevents interaction between the foal and other herd members by threatening any individual that comes too close.
The duration of lactation varies in E. zebra, and the final weaning time apparently depends upon the approaching birth of a sibling. Mares usually nurse foals in bouts of 90 seconds to 2 minutes. The suckling time typically consists of 3 periods. There is an initial suckling period lasting about 1 minute which is followed by a resting period of a few seconds. The second and final suckling period lasts for 10 to 20 seconds. For the first 3 months of life, foals typically nurse at hourly intervals during the day, after which, suckling frequency decreases. Foals often begin to nibble at grass when they are only a few days old. They are weaned after approximately 10 months of age.
Most E. zebra foals leave their maternal herds in summer. Equus zebra zebra young leave their maternal herds of their own volition. Not only are foals not forced out by the dominant herd stallion, but the stallion may actively try to prevent them from leaving. Foals leave the herd between 13 and 37 months of age, with an average age of 22 months. On average, foals leave their maternal herd 3 months after the birth of a sibling, and as such, the looming birth of a sibling does not appear to be particularly important to the timing of departure. In contrast, Hartmann’s mountain zebra mares try to expel their 14 to 16 month old foals from the herd before the birth of a sibling. After varying intervals, colts and fillies may rejoin their maternal herds for short periods.
The role of males in parental care is not direct. They may play some role in protecting the young of the herd.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents
The IUCN Red List indicates that the entire species E. zebra is vulnerable (1994). The IUCN, and U.S. federal list both indicate E. z. zebra as endangered. It is also listed as endangered by CITES and is placed on Appendix I. Equus zebra hartmannae is listed as threatened by the IUCN, U.S. federal list, and is listed on Appendix II by CITES.
The major threats to E. zebra include habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, harvesting, persecution, and intrinsic factors such as a restricted range. Mountain Zebra National Park and other reserves were established for the protection of E. Z. zebra. As of 1995, they were estimated at over 700 individuals. During the 1950s, numbers of E. z. hartmannae were estimated at 50,000 to 75,000 individuals. In 1992 they were estimated at only about 8,000.
US Federal List: endangered; threatened
CITES: appendix i; appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
In 1998, the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras population was estimated to number about 25,000, or approximately 8,300 mature individuals (Novellie et al. 2002). Limited data from Namibia indicates that populations are increasing on communal lands in the north-western part of the country (G. Stuart-Hill pers. comm. 2008); from 2000 to 2006, numbers have increased from 6 to 27 individuals observed per 100 km of road surveyed. However, there is no information on the status of populations of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra in the protected, private and communal areas in the rest of Namibia (and see Major Threats).
The most important threat to Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras in Namibia is livestock production and farming activities such as fencing that prevent access to water. Increasingly sophisticated farming could further disrupt movements through fencing or by preventing access to surface water (Novellie et al. 2002). The risk of hybrization in Hartmann's Mountain Zebra is minimal, given that only a single subspecies occurs in Namibia and the fact that importation of Mountain Zebras of either subspecies has never been permitted (Novellie et al. 2002).
In Namibia, there is commercial trade in Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra skins. Populations need to be carefully monitored so that harvesting does not adversely affect population viability. Hartmann's Mountain Zebra are reportedly being harvested at a rate of about 2,000-3,000 per year, which may exceed their rate of population growth (e.g., Cape Mountain Zebra in Gamka Mountain Nature Reserve increase at about 5% per year; Watson et al. 2005).
Various authors provide an historical perspective on the conservation actions taken for Mountain Zebra (Penzhorn 1988, in press; Novellie et al. 2002). Most surviving Cape Mountain Zebra are now found in national parks (793 animals in 2006) or provincial nature reserves (596 in 2006), although the numbers on private land have also increased (165; Novellie et al. 2002). Over 90% of the current total population of 1,389 Cape Mountain Zebras are derived from animals relocated from the Mountain Zebra National Park. The management of the Cape Mountain Zebra metapopulation requires the mixing of at least some animals from the three relict populations (MZNP, Gamkaberg, and Kamanassie), all of which are genetically depauperate, although this has been hampered by the relatively slow growth of the Kamanassie population. Chadwick and Watson (2007) have proposed facilitating the growth of this population by changing the fire management regime in the habitat preferred by zebra; acquiring adjacent land; and the translocation of Mountain Zebra onto adjacent land.
Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra occur in four key protected areas in Namibia: Skeleton Coast Park, Etosha National Park, Namib-Naukluft Park, and Ai-Ais-Hunsberg Park complex. Namib-Naukluft Park is particularly important with a population of around 2,300 animals (1998 estimate). Around 25% of the national population in Namibia occurs on conservancies in communal lands with the remainder on commercial livestock and game farms (Novellie et al. 2002). In South Africa, an estimated 280 animals occur on private properties and in the Goegap Provincial Nature Reserve. In the Northern Cape; the numbers of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and Western Cape comprise nearly one-quarter of the population of the subspecies in South Africa, and their removal and replacement with the Cape subspecies is a priority (Novellie et al. 2002, Penzhorn in press).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Historically, E. z. zebra was hunted for its hide, and because the species competed with livestock for grazing, interfered with agricultural interests, and allegedly broke fences.
Mountain zebras bring in money from ecotourism, and some are still harvested for their skins.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
The mountain zebra (Equus zebra) is a threatened species in the family Equidae. It is native to south-western Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Reigning taxonomic practice recognises two subspecies the:
However, it has been suggested that these should be considered separate species.
In 2004, C. P. Groves and C. H. Bell investigated the taxonomy of the zebras (genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris). They concluded that the Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannea) are distinct, and suggested that the two would be better classified as separate species, Equus zebra and Equus hartmannae.
However, in a sexual genetic study that included 295 mountain zebra specimens, Moodley and Harley (2005) found nothing to support the separation of the two mountain zebra populations into separate species. They concluded that the Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann's mountain zebra should remain as subspecies.
The mountain zebra has a dewlap, which is more conspicuous in Equus zebra zebra than in Equus zebra hartmannae. Like all extant zebras, mountain zebras are boldly striped in black or dark brown and no two individuals look exactly alike. The whole body is striped except for the belly. In the Cape mountain zebra, the ground colour is effectively white, but the ground colour in Hartmann's zebra is slightly buff.
Adult mountain zebras have a head-and-body length of 2.1 to 2.6 m (6 ft 11 in to 8 ft 6 in) and a tail of 40 to 55 cm (16 to 22 in) long. Shoulder height ranges from 1.16 to 1.5 m (3 ft 10 in to 4 ft 11 in). They weigh from 240 to 372 kg (529 to 820 lb).
Groves and Bell found that the Cape mountain zebra exhibits sexual dimorphism, females being larger than males, whereas in Hartmann's mountain zebra they are not. Hartmann's zebra is on average slightly larger than the Cape mountain zebra.
Mountain zebras are found on mountain slopes, open grasslands, woodlands and areas with sufficient vegetation, but their preferred habitat is mountainous terrain, especially escarpment with a diversity of grass species.
Mountain zebras live in hot, dry, rocky, mountainous and hilly habitats. They prefer slopes and plateaus as high as 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above sea level, although they do migrate lower during winter. Their preferred diet is tufted grass, but in times of shortage they will browse, eating bark, twigs, leaves, buds, fruit, and roots.
They drink every day. When there is no surface water due to drought, they commonly dig for ground water in dried river beds.
The Cape mountain zebra and the Hartmann's mountain zebra are now allopatric, meaning that their present ranges do not overlap, which prevents them from crossbreeding. This was not always so, and the current situation is a result of their population being fragmented when hunters exterminated them throughout the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Historically, mountain zebras could be found across the entire length of the escarpments along the west coast of southern Africa and in the fold mountain region in the south. However, they generally inhabited poorly productive land and were nowhere really numerous in comparison to those species of zebras or antelope that inhabited the plains, for example.
Mountain zebras do not aggregate into large herds like plains zebras; they form small family groups consisting of a single stallion and one to five mares, together with their recent offspring. Bachelor males live in separate groups and mature bachelors attempt to abduct young mares to establish a harem. In this they are opposed by the dominant stallion of the group.
Mares give birth to one foal at a time. The foal feeds mainly on its mother's milk for about a year, after which it is weaned onto solid forage. Cape mountain zebra foals generally move away from their maternal herds sometime between the ages of 13 to 37 months. However, with Hartmann's mountain zebra, mares try to expel their foals when they are aged around 14 to 16 months. Young males may wander alone for a while before joining a bachelor group, while females are either taken into another breeding herd or are joined by a bachelor male to form a new breeding herd.
The main threats to the species are the loss of habitat to agriculture, hunting and persecution. A zebra produces a good quantity of meat, and poaching them for food (for example during guerrilla fighting) has decreased their numbers.
The species is listed as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List. The Cape mountain zebra was hunted to near extinction. In the 1930s, their population was reduced to about 100 individuals. However, consistent and vigorous conservation measures have succeeded in reversing the decline and in 1998 it was estimated that the population of the Cape mountain zebra had increased to some 1200, about 540 in national parks, 490 in provincial nature reserves, and 165 in other reserves. However, the population has increased to about over 2,700 in the wild due to conservation efforts.
Though both mountain zebra subspecies are currently protected in national parks, they are still threatened. There is a European Zoos Endangered Species Program for this zebra as well as co-operative management of zoo populations worldwide.
- Mountain Zebra National Park
- Protected areas of Namibia#section Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park
- Table Mountain National Park#Table Mountain section
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Equus zebra.|
- Novellie, P. (2008). Equus zebra. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is vulnerable.
- Groves, C. P.; Bell, C. H. (2004). "New investigations on the taxonomy of the zebras genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris". Mammalian Biology - Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 69 (3): 182. doi:10.1078/1616-5047-00133.
- Moodley, Y. & Harley, E. H. 2005 Population structuring in mountain zebras (Equus zebra): the molecular consequences of divergent demographic histories. Conservation Genetics 6: 953–968.
- Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (2005) Mammal Species of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press; 3rd ed. ISBN 978-0801882210
- Mills, Gus and Hes, Lex (1997). The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. ISBN 0947430555.
- Shefferly, Nancy. Equus zebra mountain zebra. Animal Diversity Web
- "Mountain zebra videos, photos and facts – Equus zebra". arkive.org.
- Duncan, P. (ed.). 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: an Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group.
- Hrabar, H. & Kerley, G. I. H. 2009. "Cape Mountain Zebra 2009 Status Report". Centre for African Conservation Ecology Report 59:1–15.
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