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The 2016 CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) is fast approaching this September in South Africa. SCI and SCI Foundation (collectively Safari Club) are addressing the key CITES issues in an ongoing blog series, previously covering African lions, wood bison and secret ballot voting. This week’s issue comes from another positive proposal for the international sustainable use community: Cape Mountain Zebra.
South Africa has submitted a proposal to transfer the Cape mountain zebra from CITES Appendix I to Appendix II. Endemic to South Africa, this zebra is one of two mountain subspecies, sharing many similarities with the Hartmann’s mountain zebra of Namibia.
The Cape mountain zebra subspecies has been listed on Appendix I since 1975. However, the zebra’s population is increasing and it does not meet the biological criteria for an Appendix I listing. There is no illegal trade in Cape mountain specimens and no threat from the reported legal trade.
Additionally, traded specimens of the Hartmann’s subspecies, listed under Appendix II, can be difficult to distinguish for enforcement officers. On the hoof, Cape mountain zebra exhibit a gridiron pattern formed by stripes on the rump and a small dewlap on the throat. Cape mountain zebras are slightly smaller, have wider black stripes, and a mane stopping further behind the ears. The current listing for the Cape mountain subspecies is inconsistent with recommendations for split-listings, which should be avoided.
South Africa is proposing to implement an active adaptive harvest management system, setting a sustainable hunting quota and evaluating that strategy. Conditional with the listing transfer, a hunting quota would provide incentives for private owners to invest in Cape mountain zebra conservation.
Science and Management
At its low in the 1950s, only 80 Cape mountain zebras were left. Thankfully, conservation and reintroduction efforts since have led to resurging numbers. The overall population has increased 8-9% annually since the 1990s, and is classified as Least Concern in IUCN’s latest Red List assessment. Today, 4,791 zebras live in at least 75 subpopulations throughout their historic range in South Africa.
Lack of genetic diversity is the only real concern for the zebra subspecies. Almost all the reintroduced populations originated from South Africa’s Mountain Zebra National Park and meta-population management is currently not practiced. 69% of Cape zebras occur in secure state-owned protected areas. However, the population is constrained by the available habitat of these protected areas, which are likely to reach carrying capacity for zebras by 2020.
The other 31% of the population exists on private land. Private land owners play an important role in the conservation of Cape mountain zebra, but incentives are lacking for ranchers who prefer alternative high value game species. Future population growth depends on expansion onto private land. Active management among landowners could also increase gene flow and ease concerns about genetic diversity.
The consensus among stakeholders in South Africa is that opportunities in trade will increase the zebra’s economic value, incentivizing conservation across a wider range. A hunting quota, conditional on the Appendix II down listing, would be determined by South Africa’s Biodiversity Management Plan, including a population viability analysis and continued monitoring.
Safari Club’s Position
Safari Club supports South Africa’s proposal to transfer the Cape mountain zebra from CITES Appendix I to Appendix II. IUCN and TRAFFIC also note that the subspecies does not meet any of the listing criteria for an Appendix I listing. The precautionary principle will be satisfied by establishing a process for setting hunting quotas in South Africa’s management plan.
The proposed transfer will generate economic incentives for private ranchers to invest in zebra conservation based on their sustainable use. Other species in South Africa have benefited in similar ways, including the bontebok and Southern white rhino.
The Hartmann’s mountain zebra is a conservation success story, recovering from less than 100 individuals in the 1940s to over 25,000 today in neighboring Namibia, and sustainable use has provided the fuel for that recovery. This proposal will allow South Africa to make the Cape mountain zebra another conservation success story and a win for sustainable use.
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