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Monday, April 20, 2015

Mountain Zebra National park Animals and Scenery

Mountain Zebra National Park is a relatively unknown destination when it comes to national parks in South Africa.  This may have to do with its location and size and the fact that it can't boast having the Big 5.  Having said this when you arrive, there is a sense of closeness to nature unlike many other parks we have visited before.  Amazing landscapes with excellent road networks and abundance of wild life makes this park a great family destination.  Unfortunately we had to depart after 2 days as our 1 year old son fell ill. 

I would love to return to complete our mission and appreciate all that it has to offer.  This park has been voted as Park of The Year for 2 years running and this is clearly noticable once you have spent some time here.  We would like to give all the credit to the management and staff who set the right foundation for a most enjoyable experience all round.
Viewpoint at the top of Kranskop
Invigorating crystal clear air, beautiful scenery, tranquil ambience and an abundance of wildlife offer you a special and personal African wilderness experience at Mountain Zebra National Park.
Situated near Cradock in the malaria-free Eastern Cape, this national park was originally proclaimed in 1937 to save the dwindling Cape mountain zebra population. Now, at over 28 000 hectares, the park boasts a conservation success story, protecting over 700 zebra as well as wildlife such as endangered black rhino and cheetah.

6 things to seek

  • Aardwolf
  • Cape buffalo
  • Cheetah
  • Cape mountain zebra
  • Blue crane
  • Denham's bustard 
The Very Scenic Kranskop Drive
Situated near Cradock in the malaria-free Eastern Cape, this national park was originally proclaimed in 1937 to save the dwindling Cape Mountain Zebra population.  Now, at over 28 000 hectares, the park boasts a conservation success story, protecting over 600 Zebra.
Cape Mountain Zebra
Stunning vistas viewed from the Kranskop Loop.
Looking North towards Rooiplaat Loop

Birding in Mountain Zebra National Park

Verreaux’s (Black) and Martial Eagle and Jackal Buz za rd soar impressively over this mountain habitat. Pale-winged Starling is very conspicuous on the mountain plateau, where Ostrich, Secretarybird, Blue Crane and Ludwig’s Bustard are the larger more visible species. Grey-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Large-billed (Thick-billed) and Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear (Chat) and Orange-breasted Rockjumper should also be searched for, while Pink-billed Lark and African Rock Pipit are less common. 

The wooded kloofs and acacia stands host species such as Red-fronted Tinker Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Red-throated Wryneck and Southern Tchagra.

Top tips for twitchers:

  • Rooiplaat Loop for larks and pipits.
  • Kranskop Loop for mountain birds.
  • Thickets of the Wilgerboom River for the smaller birds and seed-eaters.
  • The northern plains for the blue korhaan and the bustards.
  • The southern mountainous parts for the raptors: look out for Verraux's eagle, booted eagle and martial eagle.
  • For two 'specials' - the Drakensberg rockjumper and ground woodpecker - walk the 3-day guided trail or stay overnight in the mountain cottages.
Download the latest Mountain Zebra National Park birding checklist
Southern Black Korhaan

Black Wildebeest

Beautiful Cloud Fornations & Vistas along the Kranskop Loop

Mammals

The highlight of the park's mammalian fauna is the over 700 Cape mountain zebra after which the park is named. The Park was originally proclaimed to save this species from extinction, with a small founder herd of only 6 zebra. Mountain zebra can be seen throughout the park in small herds. 

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. Mountain reedbuck and grey rhebuck prefer the high mountain slopes along the Kranskop loop.

Cheetah were reintroduced in 2007, becoming the first large predators in the Park. Brown hyena were introduced in 2008 but these secretive scavengers are seldom seen, except on camera traps and occasionally night drives. In April 2013, lions were introduced. Read the article about Lion released in Mountain Zebra National Park
Chacma baboons and vervet monkeys make up the Park's primate component. Elusive species that you may be fortunate to see include aardwolf, bat-eared fox and caracal.

Nocturnal species which can be spotted on guided night drives include black-footed cat, aardvark, porcupine, genets and polecats.

Species List

Download the latest Mountain Zebra National Park mammal checklist

Ground Squirrel

Golden Mongoose

Beautiful Young Kudu Bull in golden sunlight

Vegetation

Mountain Zebra National Park has three vegetation types (Mucina et al. 2005): 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 the grass species Merxmuellera disticha, with shrubs such as Euryops annuus, and Elytropappus rhinocerotis. 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. Shrubs such as Pentzia incana, Eriocephalus ericoides dominate, while grasses such as Aristida spp. Eragrostis spp. and Themeda triandra are common. Fires are fairly common in the Karoo Escarpment Grassland and may also occur occasionally in the Eastern Upper Karoo. The vegetation types in the Mountain Zebra National Park are poorly or hardly protected elsewhere in South Africa (Driver et al. 2005).

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) with a wide diversity of habitats ranging from mountaintops to valley bottoms provide suitable habitat ideal to cater for the seasonal requirements of the large herbivores (Novellie et al. 1988). 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. 
Crossing the Wilgerboom River


Herbivore densities within the rocky grassland areas are likely to be low. Importantly, all of the major vegetation types in the park are currently very poorly conserved elsewhere in South Africa: South Eastern Mountain Grassland (0.3% conserved), Eastern Mixed Nama Karoo (1.08%), Valley Thicket (2.2%) and Central Lower Karoo (0.05%). Hence, the park will play a critical role in the long-term preservation of biodiversity.

The interface between biomes promotes a rich flora, as well as preserving important ecological and landscape processes. An analysis of the flora (Pond et al. 2002) revealed 680 plant species in the park, thirteen of which are Red Data species. At 5.05 plant species per 100 ha, the density of plant species in the Mountain Zebra National Park is very high compared to other protected areas in the arid and semi-arid areas of South Africa, a feature which can be ascribed to the wide habitat and substrate diversity of the park (Pond et al. 2002).
Typical Karoo panoramic Landscape

Four Cheetah cubs having fun on the rocks while mom is looking for a meal

History

From prehistoric sites with concentrations of stone artifacts situated along the river banks and rock art panels on the mountain slopes to historic farmsteads and cemeteries, Mountain Zebra National Park has acted as a backdrop for thousands of years of human history.
From 14 000 to 10 000 years ago, Later Stone Age inhabitants lived in the area now proclaimed as national park. Evidence of their settlements is found along the banks of the Wilger River. There are some 30 sites with pottery and stone artifacts that have been identified through research done by the University of Stellenbosch.
The San people left evidence of their lives about 300 years ago in at least three rock shelters containing rock art in the Park. The paintings show an antelope, baboons, a large cat - possibly a leopard or cheetah - and human figures.
Visitors can view rock paintings in one of the shelters by hiring a Park guide to show them the way. Although a fence protects the painting site, it is quite exciting to be able to stand less than a metre away from ancient artwork.
During the 1800s, British soldiers created a chessboard on the top of Saltpeterskop, a 1514m high koppie in the Park. While hiding out during the Anglo-Boer War, they played chess with their fellow soldiers in the old fort in Cradock, transmitting moves by means of a mirror, which had the official purpose of communicating warning signals.

The story goes that a certain farmer – unbeknown to the soldiers - picked up the signals and started a game against the soldiers while sitting on the stoep of his farmhouse.
The chessboard and the names of the soldiers are etched onto a flat slab of rock at the top of Saltpeterskop. Names recorded include the 5th Lancashire Fusiliers, the Coldstream Guards and some privates, corporals and a captain.

The legacy of white pioneers who moved into the area and set up farms during the Great Trek of 1836 still stands today. In 1838, one of the first permanent farmhouses in the area was constructed on the farm De Doornkloof, then owned by Hendrik Jacobus van Heerden. The house presently known as Doornhoek, declared a national monument in 1986, was restored and is still used as a guesthouse in the Park. It is popular with those who want a tranquil family getaway overlooking a lake, with spectacular star-gazing vistas at night.

In 1937, 1712 hectares of land was proclaimed as the Mountain Zebra National Park. Thanks to the conservation efforts of farmers in the area, a small herds of the endangered Cape mountain zebra still survived in the area and these provided a founder population for the Park. Paul Michau donated 6 zebra and later Mr H L Lombard donated 11 zebra to the Park. The Park’s Cape mountain zebra herd now numbers over 350 animals.

The Park at first expanded slowly over the years, but then received a boost with a joint public-private conservation initiative. An artist by the name of David Shepherd kick-started the initiative by donating prints of his works “Mountain Zebra: A Vision in Black and White” in 1996 and “Cheetahs” in 1998 so that money could be raised to buy surrounding farms and expand the size of the Park. SABC’s 50/50 programme shared the story with viewers and encouraged them to support the project by buying prints so that the necessary funds could be raised. The response was fantastic and also caused private individuals and businesses to make donations including The Barbara Delano Foundation, WildAid, Sasol and Vesta Medicines. South African National Parks Trust matched all of the funds that were raised. 

Nine surrounding farms were purchased through this process, enabling the Park to expand from 6 536 hectares to 28 412 hectares in size. Following this, black rhino, buffalo and finally cheetah could be introduced to the Park.
Mountain Zebra National Park Entrance Gate

Mountain Zebra - Camdeboo Corridor Project

"Protecting Land Together"

Overview

The Mountain Zebra - Camdeboo Corridor Project is a joint partnership between SANParks and the Wilderness Foundation with funding from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund. The aim of the project is to improve the status of protection of biodiversity in valuable grasslands between the Mountain Zebra and Camdeboo National Parks. The project aspires to consolidate and expand the protected area estate by means of voluntary agreements with private landowners.

Project Objectives

  • This project footprint covers a large tract of land that has a high biodiversity value.
  • This footprint includes four (4) biomes and six (6) major vegetation types. This vegetation supports a unique combination of southern grassland species and is a globally-important birding area.
  • This area is identified as one of the top three (3) priorities for grassland conservation.

Why should we conserve this area?

  • To secure a large portion of unique and valuable vegetation types under some form of protection and thereby also protect the unique species dependant on these ecosystems.
  • To secure land from detrimental development and land use activities
  • To increase the eco-tourism potential of the area.
Current landowners will benefit in terms of protecting the environment as well as contribute towards the conservation of threatened wildlife species such as Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest, cheetah and black rhino. Protection will also contribute to safeguarding the recently-identified Sneeuberg Centre of Endemism, part of the Amathole-Sneeuberg Montane Belt.
The first phase of the corridor project will run from 2012 until February 2014.
Mountain Zebra herd on the Rooiplaat Loop

Leaving the park early with a heavy heart

Camdeboo National park surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet, covering 19 405 hectares while the 28 412-hectare Mountain Zebra National Park is located near Cradock.
The promise of rain in Cradock
Heading home with the setting sun over the Worcester Mountains
Data Sourced from SANPARKS

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