Why would a safari outfitter, such as John X Safaris, decide to invest in a species that is currently only exportable to a handful of countries around the world, and more importantly not permitted into the United States as of 1 May 2015? As matters stand at present, our largest market is American, and we are in the business of hunting. It makes no sense that any budget should be allocated towards something not available to the vast majority of our hunters – right? Wrong!
But let’s start at the beginning… long before the conservation success story in South Africa today.
The Cape Mountain Zebra, though never numerous, formerly inhabited the mountain ranges of the Eastern and Western Cape of South Africa. By 1922 it was believed there were as little as 400 individuals left in the wild. When in 1936, the population had reached a critical decline to a mere 80 individuals, the Minister of Land, Jan Kemp, was asked to set aside a special reserve for the Cape Mountain Zebra, he gave his now infamous reply: “No! They’re just a lot of donkeys in football jerseys.”
Then during late 1937 in response to the continued decline in the population, the government established the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, as well as two further protected areas in the Kammanassie and Gamka Mountains. Unfortunately the Cape Mountain Zebra National Parks’ small population of Zebra died out by 1950, leaving the park at the hands of remnant populations which were introduced into the park that same year. Eleven animals were donated from nearby farms, and in 1964 another small herd was added.
By the late 1960’s, the total Cape Mountain Zebra population was only 140, but grew to 200 by 1979, with 75% of the animals in the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park. In 1984, the population was back to 400 head. As the population grew and flourished under the protection of the state, excess numbers were trans-located and introduced into the Cape Point section of the Table Mountain National Park and the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape, SA.
As the private game sector grew, so it too started purchasing available numbers from the protected state parks, playing a crucial role in the successful conservation of the species. The number of privately owned sub-populations has doubled over the last two decades, which has increased the available habitat and distribution of the species within their historic range.
In 2009 a survey was commissioned by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), to specifically identify all privately owned sub-populations, and to determine the status of animals in private hands. It was established that these sub-populations were flourishing as a third of the population existed on private land,nearly 900 individuals of a total 2790, with a number of privately owned herds boasting numbers greater than 50 individuals. A remarkable feat when one considers the complicated family dynamics and structures in a group, combined with the slow reproduction rate of the species.
Today the population is estimated at around +-3850 individuals and are now listed as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN red list category and criteria C1 2008) instead of ‘Endangered’, as before. Things are most certainly looking up for the Cape Mountain Zebra population.
So on 1 May 2015, John X Safaris together with our great friend, Niel Schoombee, through hard-earned hunters dollars, were able to become proud owners of 8 Cape Mountain Zebra. The Zebra were bought from a fellow private game owner, Dale Cunningham, in the Grahamstown district, and were trans-located to Niel’s property, Ventershoek, in the Great Karoo.
It was an exciting day of game capture, with a professional team from iNyathi Game Services, headed up by experienced helicopter pilot, Dawie de Klerk, and wildlife veterinarian, Dr William Fowlds.
Once the Bontebuck were captured, loaded, and on their way, we were off to locate the two predetermined family groups of Cape Mountain Zebra we had purchased.
The Zebra would be spotted from the air, before diving down with the helicopter and getting within range for Dr. Fowlds to make the necessary shot with a dart gun, tranquilizing the animals.
Once tranquilized, the ground crews would rush in to meet Dr. Folwds checking up on each animal, before getting the Zebra loaded onto the compartmentalized truck that would be transporting the animals to Niel.
Upon loading Dr. Fowlds and his crew jumped to work doing a thorough check on each animal. A combination of drugs would be used to create a sedative “cocktail” which would minimize the stress on the animals during their journey north.
Dale having been one of the pioneers of DNA testing in the East Cape soon jumped to work too.
The blood samples would be sent away to Dr. Desire Dalton, who would do the DNA checks and issue both Dale and us a report of her findings. The information would be logged on a DNA registry, which intern will provide valuable information in the future, ensuring none of this groups gene pool had been contaminated by any other Zebra.
The journey would be a hard one for both the animals and crews involved. It is a stressful part of the process for the owners, as the animals may be sedated and are not aware of their surroundings ensuring they exert very little stress, but animals will remain animals – one never knows what to expect.
Zebra are some of the hardest game to transport as they kick and bite with devastating results, let alone getting the loading configuration right for the journey. Loading a particular Zebra fowl with a mare that may not be its mother, would result in a dead fowl by the time they got to the other side. The incorrect stallion with a mare or group in a compartment can lead to devastation – Like I said before, Zebra are complicated creatures.
Luckily for us we had a wealth of game experience combined on the day, ensuring a smooth trans-location and the successful release of 8 Cape Mountain Zebra with Niel on the property, Ventershoek. They would now take a couple of months to truly settle down before choosing which valley or mountain to call home. After that we hope for many fowls as each spring passes, year by year. The seed to success has been planted.
An Important Day in the Conservation Success Story of South Africa….
Looking towards the future, the hypocrite in you may continue asking the question I posed above, how could it possibly make sense investing in something this expensive when the results to success are not guaranteed?
Neither Niel or I, will ever be able to predict when the US Fish and Wildlife will decide to allow the importation of Cape Mountain Zebra into that country by its citizens. The process underway by the various authorities is believed to be a lot closer than ever before. Not taking away anything from any other international hunter, it will however be a watershed moment in the further success of the specie if the US were to lift the importation ban.
While some may question the motives of our investment, consider it no different to your business you work so hard at every day, no one wants to see their investment lose value or fail. It’s called sustainability. It has been the driving force behind the most successful conservation story on the planet, and continues to develop in various ways to ensure its sustainability. May that sustainability be achieved via hunting, viewing, trading, or ranching, as long as people see value in the specie, its protection will be ensured. And that after all is what every conservationist, no matter what your stance or belief is, is after.
In saying this, there is a further responsibility, far less complicated than the economic ways of the world. Imagine if the pioneers of our success had rested with Jan Kemp’s infamous reply in 1936; “No! They’re just a lot of donkeys in football jerseys.” We would not have enjoyed the privilege we enjoyed on 1 May 2015.
In doing so we hope to ensure that they too will continue in the sustainability of the conservation success story of South Africa for generations to come. Here’s to the Cape Mountain Zebra and the people who had a vision back in 1937!
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