Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Focus on the Mountain Zebra National Park – Keith Marallich.

During the final week of 2015 I visited two of South Africa’s National Parks that are situated in a fairly arid part of South Africa – the Karoo National Park and the Mountain Zebra National Park. Both these parks can be utilised on any of our overland tours between Durban/Johannesburg and Cape Town (or Cape Town to Durban/Johannesburg). These suggested itineraries (which can be tailor-made to suit individual requirements), are found at http://www.guidedsafaris.co.za/. This blog hereunder will focus on the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Situated near Cradock in the malaria-free Eastern Cape, the Mountain Zebra National Park was proclaimed in 1937 to save the dwindling Cape mountain zebra population. Now, at over 28 000 hectares in size, the park boasts a conservation success story, protecting Cape mountain zebra as well as wildlife such as endangered black rhino and cheetah. The comfortable camp has chalets, a restaurant, shop (with basic commodities) and fuel pumps (both petrol and diesel) on site.

The highlight of the park's mammals are the over 700 Cape mountain zebra after which the park is named. Buffalo can be spotted in areas with Acacia thicket and on the wooded valleys of the park. Antelope species include black wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, blesbok, kudu and springbok, with mountain reedbuck and grey rhebuck in the high mountain slopes along the Kranskop loop. Cheetah were reintroduced in 2007, becoming the first large predators in this park and Brown hyena were introduced in 2008, but these secretive scavengers are seldom seen, except on camera traps and occasionally on night drives. In April 2013, lions were introduced and are seen fairly regularly – but alas, not by me on this trip! Chacma baboon and vervet monkey make up the park's primate component. Elusive species that one may be fortunate to see include aardwolf, bat-eared fox and caracal.The Cape mountain zebra can be recognised by their bold black stripes, no shadow stripes between the black, white bellies, striping all the way down to their hooves, larger ears and a dewlap. Burchells zebra (sometimes called “plains” zebra) have their black stripes spaced far apart with “shadow” stripes in the white bands and the stripes over most of the belly.  These photos below illustrate the differences between the lesser-known Cape mountain zebra and the well-known Burchell’s zebra quite nicely – just so you know, the Burchells zebra were not photographed in this reserve:

Cape Mountain Zebra

Cape Mountain Zebra

Burchell's Zebra

Burchell's Zebra.      

The Mountain Zebra National Park has three vegetation types: the Eastern Upper Karoo, Karoo Escarpment Grassland and Eastern Cape Escarpment Thicket making up 37%, 53% and 10%, respectively of the park. The park thus incorporates elements of three biomes: the Nama-Karoo, Grassland and Thicket. The Karoo Escarpment Grassland is dominated by grass species, with sparse shrubs whilst the Eastern Upper Karoo is a mix of grass and shrub dominated vegetation types that are subject to dynamic changes in species composition depending upon rainfall. Fires are fairly common in the Karoo Escarpment Grassland and may also occur occasionally in the Eastern Upper Karoo. The combination of different vegetation types is important from the point of view of preserving biodiversity, as well as from an aesthetic viewpoint. The area is one of transition between biomes allowing for an interesting mix of flora and fauna, as well as preserving important ecological and landscape processes. The warm north-facing slopes (which characterise the park) have a wide diversity of habitats ranging from mountaintops to valley bottoms that provide suitable habitat to cater for the seasonal requirements of the large herbivores. In addition, the north aspect provides for productive land capable of supporting relatively high densities of game, with greater proportions of the more productive Karoo veld types allowing the carrying of large herbivores.

I did manage to see a whole range of the general game, with a sighting of a black rhino and her calf thrown in – this for me was something special! Some of these species are shown below:

Kudu Bull - and there were a lot of kudu seen in this park

Red Hartebeest - as with the kudu, there were a lot of these seen as well

Red Hartebeest

Black Rhino and Calf

Unfortunately, on this visit, I did not see any of the “sought-after” animals, such as lion and cheetah, but was fortunate enough to see quite a few other species. Three of the animals species that I did see, but was unable to photograph, were some buffalo, in pretty thick bush, as well as eland and oryx that were just too far out of range for a decent photo. The lack of these sought after sightings were made palatable by seeing quite a number of the cute ground squirrels – they were pretty relaxed and would in fact approach a vehicle – what for, I can’t explain:

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel
There were, surprisingly, not that many birds seen, but for me there was a “lifer”, a blue korhaan. Some of the other birds seen are also shown below:

Blue Korhaan

White-breasted Cormorant

African Hoopoe

African Darter
 Hereunder follows a few photographs whereby I tried to illustrate a cross section of the “lay of the land” as it were, with these:
Two Springbok testing one another

Black-backed Jackal

Two Cape mountain zebra at one of the few waterholes that still had water

Black Wildebeest - much more interesting than it's Blue cousin!

A lone Springbok set against an open background

A triangle of Cape mountain zebra

Blesbuck - the background shows the "lay of the land" quite nicely

Cape mountain zebra with some clouds at sunset
This is a very good game reserve to visit and has something different to offer in the wildlife and topography departments from the more popular reserves, and coupled with a visit to say, the Kruger Park and maybe the Addo Elephant National Park, can offer quite a diversified wildlife experience.

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