Returning past glory: How the Cape Mountain Zebra returned to the Baviaanskloof

ReStory narrator: Justin Gird

Amidst increasingly challenging environmental and economic conditions, the reintroduction of a herd of Cape mountain zebra brought inspiration to the western Baviaanskloof farming community.  The Cape mountain zebra is colloquially known as a Quagga, but not to be confused with the extinct Quagga (Equus quagga quagga).  The arrival of these Quagga is a reminder that building a vision for a living landscape is a slow but rewarding process. More crucially, it is not to be attempted alone.

After nearing extinction in the early 1900s, the few remaining Cape mountain zebra were protected in a breeding programme.  Numbers steadily rose again, and the IUCN status of the species was downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’.  Originally the Quagga were residents to the area, but they were removed from the Kloof as part of this protection and breeding programme.

Oom Gustav Nortjé and Justin Gird (the narrator), together with several others, decided it was time to return to Quagga to its home.  Oom Gustav was born in the Baviaanskloof, farmed in the valley for the most of his life and still lives there today.  He was present the day when the last herd of resident Quagga was removed from the Baviaanskloof in 1972.  Oom Gustav thought he would never see these animals in the Kloof again. However, he had the unique privilege to witness their reintroduction more than four decades later in August 2019.  

Oom Gustav Nortje overseeing the offloading of the Quagga

Surrounded by wilderness area and inhabited by open-hearted people, the Baviaanskloof holds much potential for ecological restoration and alternative approaches to agriculture and natural resource management. Fifteen landowners of the Baviaanskloof have therefore started to harness this potential. They are members of the Baviaanskloof Hartland Bewarea, a conservancy with the vision of creating sustainable livelihoods within a natural landscape.  Ecological rehabilitation, research and interventions have contributed to this vision over the last 10 years, slowly changing the way landowners view their farms within the greater landscape.  It was thus not difficult for members of the conservancy to agree that Quagga could be released onto their land.  Although the presence of a few ‘striped donkeys’ might go unnoticed by some, the members of the BHB have been inspired to be part of a re-wilding process and expand the range of the Quagga after their removal so many years ago.

Twelve Quaggas were released.  They have subsequently divided into about four smaller family herds.  They are sighted weekly in various locations on both the valley floor and mountain slopes.  The animals were bought by private non-landowner individuals who share the vision for the Baviaanskloof without an expectation of economic return. “Knowing there are a few wild Quaggas roaming around in the back mountains is enough for me,” said one of the investors.

It is anticipated that the Quaggas can be a catalyst towards the improvement of the natural capital of the area to further strengthen the collaboration between landowners, private investors and the conservancy acting as an overarching management body for the Baviaanskloof.  The people of the Kloof and all of those who support their vision from outside are slowly learning that ecological restoration is much more than just planting a tree – it starts with the restoration of relationships and a sense of place.