To be able to see and photograph two endanged animal species within a few minutes of each other was a fantastic highlight of a recent trip to Cape Town. Its hard to imagine that such animals can be found in the wild within an hours drive of a major city. But the fact that they can is testament to the excellent job that the South African National Parks Board are doing not only to protect these animals, but doing it in a way that they are accessible and visible to the public.
The first of the two species spotted next to the main road down to Cape Point was a small heard of Cape Mountain Zebra. Once prevalent throughout the mountains of the Eastern Cape, only about 600 Mountain Zebras remain in a few isolated locations today. They feed on the coarse grasses intertwined with the Fynbos and weather beaten shrubs that make up the vegetation in the windswept coastal mountains with each herd occupying a specific home territory of about nine to 10 square kilometers. Mountain Zebras are smaller than their cousins the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra which is found in Namibia and south east Angola. They are also considerably different to the more commonly seen Plains or Burchell’s Zebra in both stripe pattern and coloring and to my mind are by far more attractive than Burchell’s.
Unlike plains Zebras that congregate in large herds, Mountain Zebras travel in small family groups usually headed by a single male. The family groups tend to bond and stay together until the herd stallion becomes old and is replaced by a younger stallion. Young colts and fillies leave the herd just before they reach two years of age. They are not forced away but depart on their own accord. When the colts leave their group they wander alone for a while, but eventually associate with the bachelor males. Fillies which are just approaching sexual maturity when they leave the mother herd are usually herded by a bachelor to form a new family group. This splitting up ensures genetic diversity within the limited numbers, but also places the species at risk when herd members are hunted or die of natural causes.
In another first for me and within minutes of seeing the Mountain Zebra’s we came across this lone Bontebok deep down in a Fynbos gulley. Bontebok are the rarest of the world’s antelope and can only be seen in protected areas, one being the area round Cape Point where they feed on the short grasses in the Fynbos plains. In the late 1800’s Bontebok were almost hunted to extinction leaving only seventeen animals in the wild. Today their numbers have increased to slightly more than fifteen thousand but they remain highly endangered and are protected game.
Once considered the same species as the Blesbok found in the highlands of South Africa and Lesotho Bontebok were reclassified as a separate species when genetic typing confirmed the two species have remained separated for thousands of years.
So spotting this rare gem of an animal was a special treat as I never realized how rare it was until I started writing this blog. But I’m pleased to say I now have great shots of both Blesbok and Bontebok.