Mountain Zebra Project in Namibia

mountain zebra project in namibiaHartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) is Namibia's only endemic large mammal and a protected species in Namibia. It is a subspecies of mountain zebra and together with the Cape mountain zebra (E.z.zebra) in South Africa, is of global conservation importance. 

The aims of the Mountain Zebra Project are to promote the study of mountain zebras for scientifically based population management and as a flagship species for wider ecosystem conservation in Namibia. The mountain zebra study aims to carry out basic and applied research on the population biology and social evolution of mountain zebra in a range of habitats across Namibia. It is carried out by Professor Morris Gosling of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom (UK) with much- valued and expert collaborators in a number of private and public protected areas.

Most work since the start of the project in 2005 has been carried out in the south of Namibia, including Gondwana Cañon Park and the adjacent Ai-Ais-Richtersveld National Park, the NamibRand Nature Reserve and the Namib-Naukluft National Park. More recently work has started in the west of Etosha National Park in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) scientists in preparation for a study of hybridization with plains zebra, a problem that has emerged as a potential threat to the species, particularly where populations of the two species are enclosed together.

Mountain zebra stripe patterns are individually distinctive and Prof Gosling has developed a coding system that can be used for the rapid identification of individual animals from photographs and thus the monitoring of both small and large populations. Where animals have been over-hunted and are not easily approached for conventional photography, recent developments in camera trap technology allow entire populations to be monitored. 
These techniques allow a suite of powerful individual-based approaches that are becoming widespread in population ecology and behavior. The priority in most areas is to establish population size and range, and, in a strongly water-dependent species, the numbers using each water source in the dry season. 
Mark-recapture techniques can be used to provide estimates of study populations and to detect trends, particularly where ground counts are difficult in mountainous terrain. Another key variable that has a bearing on population viability is the relationship between the number of animals in a protected area and the size of the ‘source population’, the number of animals that range more widely over neighbouring areas and properties and thus require more extensive conservation management tools. 

Cape mountain zebras were reduced by overhunting to less than 100 animals in the 1940s although protection in parks and reserves has allowed their numbers to expand again. Hartmann's populations in Namibia are healthier but they still numbered only about 25,000 in 2002 (Novellie et al, 2002), mainly in protected areas, conservancies and farms devoted partly or wholly to wildlife.

The project has been part funded by the Rufford Small Grant scheme and with donations from the Whitley Fund for Nature. It is hosted by the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) which provides administrative and other practical support.

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