Expert Reviews – Mountain Zebra NP

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One of the last retreats for the endangered Mountain zebra
Overall rating
3/5

This park’s main purpose is to protect the endangered Cape mountain zebra. So, when I visited this small reserve in search of these mammals, I expected it to be easy. The driving circuit is vey small and I completed it several times in a row before seeing a small herd quite a distance away. As a photographer, any sighting without a reasonable photo opportunity doesn’t count, so I persisted. Not long before sunset, I finally got lucky. Seeing them up close, these zebras look very different from our widespread plains zebra. I did manage to get some good pictures of them taking advantage of the low light till sunset. Predictably, this meant I got caught in front of a locked gate when I tried to leave the park, but that’s another story... Aside from the zebras, you can see other grazers including red hartebeest, eland, blesbok and springbok. Another rarity present is the black wildebeest with its distinctive white tail, much less common and widespread than the blue wildebeest.

Rolling grasslands and the elusive aardwolf.
Overall rating
3/5

This little visited South African national park, located in the Eastern Cape, has stunning scenery with mountain slopes and rolling, golden grasslands. It was established to save the Mountain Zebra. With its dewlap and “gridiron” patterned rump, this mountain specialist looks very different to the plains zebra. One of the unique experiences of this park is the opportunity to track collared cheetah on foot, with the park ranger. I found it a thrilling experience to get so close to wild cheetah. Although lion have recently been reintroduced, this is not a Big 5 destination. However, you do stand a chance of seeing some more unusual species. This is the only place in Africa I have ever seen aardwolf, both times I visited, but the aardvark still eludes me here. The best time of year to stand a chance of seeing these rare creatures is winter, however bring warm clothes as the temperatures drop below freezing.

Zebras and Cheetahs in the Karoo
Overall rating
3/5

This park in the deep Karoo, near the historic town of Cradock, is dedicated to conserving one of the world’s rarest mammals: the Cape mountain zebra. The 280 sq km park has over 700 of the diminutive, dark-striped zebras, having begun with a founder herd of just six. Other animals to look out for include buffalo, several antelope species, aardwolf, bat-eared foxes, caracals and, since a trio was introduced in 2013, lions. I spent a few hours diving the good-quality roads, looping across the rolling plains beneath the craggy Bankberg range, and enjoyed plentiful antelope sightings including frolicking springboks. For a thrilling wildlife experience, join a guide to track the park’s elusive cheetahs and get as close as 15m from the big cats.

Dazzles of Zebra
Overall rating
2/5

This tiny park came into being in 1937 with a sole purpose: to save the highly endangered Cape mountain zebra from extinction. In this regard it succeeded admirably and today the population hovers around the 300 mark despite a number of equids having been relocated to other suitable reserves in the region. However, this great conservation feat is not in itself reason enough for safari enthusiasts to make the effort to visit the Mountain Zebra National Park. More recently, a number of indigenous mammals have been reintroduced to the park, including cheetah, buffalo, black rhino, and a range of antelope species. I will admit that during my brief visit to the national park, I saw few of these ‘new addition’ species, while the park’s biggest feline, the retiring caracal, remained as elusive as ever. So, unless you’re a zebra maniac or happen to be passing through the area, I would probably recommend taking a rain check and rather safariing in one of South Africa’s better wildlife areas.

Endemics hideaway
Overall rating
3/5

This medium-sized park neat the small town of Cradock is notable for its striking landscapes of green rolling hills. However, in terms of wildlife, it is mainly of interest for providing refuge to a number of mammal species endemic t South Africa. These include the eponymous Cape mountain zebra, which might well have gone extinct in the early 19th century were it not for the park’s creation, Today, some 300 mountain zebras roam the hilly slopes, along with significant populations of the endemic black wildebeest and blesbok. The park is also the centre for a programme to selectively re-breed the quagga – a localised race of plains zebra that had solid dark hindquarters and became extinct in 1883 – from stripeless-reared plains zebras. Other wildlife includes buffalo, black rhino, cheetah, Cape fox, kudu and springbok, while the extensive bird checklist includes the endemic orange-breasted rockjumper and ground woodpecker. This park makes for an interesting diversion if you are in the area, but few would go out of their way to visit it.

Craggy Heights and Deep Valleys
Overall rating
2/5

The Cape mountain zebra differs from its more common cousin, Burchells, mainly in its colouring, but it was nearly extinct at the beginning of the 20th century so it’s great to see about 300 thriving here in their natural surroundings. It shares the park with buffalo, black rhino, black wildebeest, eland, red hartebeest, gemsbok, cheetah and caracal (all of which I’ve seen here except the last two). While this is not a full-on, intense, game viewing park it has a great atmosphere with a variety of accommodations and activities such as hiking, 4x4 trails plus of course game drives amongst its very scenic crags, hills and valleys.

Mountain Zebra – haven from extinction
Overall rating
3/5

Set up in 1937 to save the mountain zebra from extinction, the Mountain Zebra National Park really is a long way from anywhere in the northern part of the Eastern Cape, about 280 kms (174 miles) north of Port Elizabeth. Few tourists ever get there. I’ve been here several times but like most visitors, I’ve strayed in on daytrips or have driven through en route while visiting the nearby historic Cape-Dutch towns of Cradock and Graaff-Reinet that are the real draw to the area. Truthfully, while the park is very pretty if you happen to be nearby and need a wildlife fix, it isn’t first rank and not worth crossing continents to get here. Those who do stay over are usually weekending South Africans come to hike the three-day Impofu Trail, chill out or track cheetah. There are also three rock shelters with San rock art which can be visited with a ranger.

The park is a haven in many ways. It covers 284 sq kms (110 sq miles) of rocky mountain, a green(er) oasis in the vast scrubby sprawl that is the Karoo. I love the open desert scenery but for many (animals and birds as well as humans), this is a welcome relief, particularly in the searing heat of high summer. For visitors, the biggest draw is the mountain zebras, noticeably different from their common cousins, with orangey muzzles and big rounded ears. There are around 300 in the park these days. But the park also has other animals including cheetah, caracal, Cape buffalo, black rhino, eland, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and gemsbok. It has no major predators or elephant or hippo. Secretary birds and blue cranes strut across the open grasslands while Verreaux’s (Black) and Martial eagles soar through the skies above, some of the 275 species of bird that inhabit the park, of which around 20, including the blue and black bustard and Cape long-billed lark, are endemic.

Guaranteed sightings of mountain zebra on a scenic grassy plateau
Overall rating
2/5

On our visit, the Mountain Zebra National Park hung with thick dark clouds, but the moody weather actually made for some incredible colours, and the steel-blue rolling mountains melted into a foreground of fluid golden grass. Our game drive looped across the wide Rooiplat Plateau, where we naturally saw mountain zebra, (they have narrower stripes than Burchell’s zebra), and the grey stormy Karoo sky silhouetted them perfectly. Other plains game included springbok, black wildebeest and red hartebeest, and we surprised a couple of large male kudu in a gully. Unfortunately black rhino and cheetah remained elusive but I think I heard jackals yipping during the night. It’s a good overnight stop (the Victorian-style Doornhoek farmhouse is a fine place to stay), and in the weather we experienced, great for camping with a hot stew cooked over the braai.

A mountain of zebras
Overall rating
3/5

With its characteristic “onion peel” sandstone mountains, rolling hills and deep valleys, the 28000-plus Mountain Zebra National Park is a brilliant sanctuary for the Cape mountain zebra, notably for their reddish-orange noses, which since the park’s proclamation in 1937 has been brought back from the brink of extinction. Beyond the namesake zebra, the park also boasts buffalo, black rhino, eland, kudu, black wildebeest and other species, as well as a rich variety of plants and birdlife. For me one of Mountain Zebra’s most fascinating attractions are the 300-year-old San cave paintings that depict faded figures, eland and other antelope and, perhaps most unusual of all considering the rarity in sightings, a cheetah. The park can be done in a day trip from Port Elizabeth, but if you really want to get the most out of the park I’d suggest you stay overnight in the accommodation provided in the park.

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