Mountain zebras communicate using mainly visual and auditory cues. Because no two individuals have identical stripe patterns, body pattern can be used for individual indentification. At close range, individuals can also be recognized by smell.
Among all members of the horse family, the positioning of the ears, the stretching of the corners of the mouth, the exposure of the teeth, the opening of the mouth, and the positioning of the head and tail serve as signals of an individuals’ mood or intentions. Ears laid flat back against the head signal threat, especially when accompanied by a lowered head and open mouth. During greeting rituals, mountain zebras touch noses and communicate rank by the positioning of the ears. As a gesture of inferiority, younger individuals hold their ears to the side and make chewing motions with exposed incisors when greeting adults.
Mountain zebras make a variety of vocalizations. Stallions make a high-pitched alarm call or snort to alert herd members to danger. Bachelor stallions make a drawn-out squeal when confronted by a herd stallion. In order to express contentment when feeding, mountain zebras make a soft sound caused by forcing air between closed lips.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The IUCN Red List indicates that the entire species E. zebra is vulnerable (1994). The IUCN, and U.S. federal list both indicate E. z. zebra as endangered. It is also listed as endangered by CITES and is placed on Appendix I. Equus zebra hartmannae is listed as threatened by the IUCN, U.S. federal list, and is listed on Appendix II by CITES.
The major threats to E. zebra include habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, harvesting, persecution, and intrinsic factors such as a restricted range. Mountain Zebra National Park and other reserves were established for the protection of E. Z. zebra. As of 1995, they were estimated at over 700 individuals. During the 1950s, numbers of E. z. hartmannae were estimated at 50,000 to 75,000 individuals. In 1992 they were estimated at only about 8,000.
US Federal List: endangered; threatened
CITES: appendix i; appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Historically, E. z. zebra was hunted for its hide, and because the species competed with livestock for grazing, interfered with agricultural interests, and allegedly broke fences.
Mountain zebras bring in money from ecotourism, and some are still harvested for their skins.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
In addition to serving as prey for certain mammalian carnivores, mountain zebras also serve as hosts for a variety of tick, bot-fly, nematode, and cestode species. They also associate with several species of birds that presumably remove external parasites from them. As grazers, mountain zebras may also aid in seed dispersal, and the creation of habitat for smaller animals including mesopredators.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat
Both subspecies of mountain zebra are herbivorous. The primary diet consists of grass but also includes browse. In MZNP, E. z. zebra directs its selection at greener plant species with a high leaf:stalk ratio. Even so, they are still coarse grazers and will exploit both stem and leaf parts of chosen grasses. Grobler (1983) found that they feed on only 26% of the available plants, and only 7 of 17 grass species present at feeding sites. The primary grass eaten is Themeda triandra. Other grasses consumed include: Cymbopogon plurinodis, Heteropogon contortus, Setaria neglecta, and Enneapogon scoparius. Cape mountain zebras of all ages also frequent mineral licks, especially during the summer.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
There are two distinct subspecies of mountain zebras (Equus zebra): Cape mountain zebras, E. z. zebra, and Hartmann's mountain zebras, E. z. hartmannae. Cape mountain zebras are found only in South Africa. Natural populations are found in the Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP), Gamka Mountain Reserve, and in the Kamanassie Mountains. Populations of Cape mountain zebras have also been established in Karoo National Park, Karoo Nature Reserve, Commando Drift Nature Reserve, De Hoop Nature Reserve, and Tsolwana Game Ranch. Hartmann’s mountain zebras range from South West Africa into extreme southwest Angola. Their distribution is highly discontinuous.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Mountain zebras inhabit slopes and plateaus in mountainous areas of South Africa and Namibia (South West Africa). Cape mountain zebras may occur up to 2,000 meters above sea level, but move to lower elevations in the winter. The habitat in South Africa provides regular precipitation and a fairly constant food-supply year round. Hartmann’s mountain zebras differ from Cape mountain zebras in that they occupy an arid region in a mountainous transition zone on the edge of the Namib Desert. Surface water is patchy in this area and as a result, E. z. hartmannae must wander between the mountains and sand flats in order to find patches of grass.
Range elevation: 2,000 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; mountains
The life span of mountain zebras in the wild is usually 20 or more years. The oldest documented mountain zebra in captivity is an E. z. hartmannae that was 29 years and 6 months.
Status: captivity: 29.5 (high) years.
Status: wild: 20 years.
Status: captivity: 30 (high) years.
Status: wild: 24.0 years.
Status: wild: 20.0 years.
Equus zebra is a fairly large-sized, striped member of the horse family. Adult mountain zebras have a head and body length of 210 to 260 cm, and a tail length of 40 to 55 cm. Shoulder height ranges from 116 to 150 cm. Mountain zebras typically weigh between 240 and 372 kg. Adult Cape mountain zebra mares average 234 kg and stallions usually weigh 250 to 260 kg. Adult Hartmann's mountain zebrasare slightly larger, with mares averaging 276 kg, and stallions averaging 298 kg. Stallions 7 years and older have a mean weight of 343 kg, and a mean shoulder height of 144.5 cm.
The ground color on the body is white, with black to deep brown stripes which continue through the short, erect mane. The stripes on the head and body are narrow and more numerous than those on the rump, and the legs are striped to the hooves. The posterior portion of the dorsal stripe forms a distinctive “gridiron” pattern that continues onto the tail and extends to the whisk near the tip. The muzzle is black.
Both subspecies of E. zebra are good climbers and have exceptionally hard and pointed hooves compared to other equines. The most distinguishing characteristic is the presence of a dewlap, or fold of skin, hanging from the throat.
The color pattern of E. zebra is intermediate between Burchell’s zebra and Grevy’s zebra. Equus zebra can be distinguished from E. burchelli by having a dewlap; narrower and more numerous stripes on the head and body; broader stripes on the hindquarters with no “shadow” stripes; a “gridiron” pattern on the rump; white under-parts with a mid-ventral black stripe on the chest and belly; and ears that are more than 200 mm long.
Cape mountain zebras are slightly smaller than Hartmann’s mountain zebras. The upper 2 to 3 dark stripes on the rump are very broad, whereas they are less so in Hartmann’s mountain zebras, where some of the white stripes may be more broad than the dark stripes.
Range mass: 240 to 372 kg.
Range length: 210 to 260 cm.
Average length: 220 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
The dominant stallion alerts other herd members to danger with a high-pitched alarm call or snort. He then takes up a defensive position to the rear of the herd while a mare, usually the one with the youngest foal, leads the rest of the herd away. Flight is the most common response to threat, and is sometimes accompanied by a defensive kick. Pulling the ears flat back against the head, lashing the tail, and lowering the head with the neck outstretched and teeth bared, is the form taken for threat behavior. Although fighting is rarely seen, it consists of biting at the opponent's head, neck, legs, and hindquarters. Mountain zebras act in response to the flight and or alarm signals of black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou). However, they rarely respond to similar signals of smaller antelope species.
Especially at high temperatures, the striped pattern of E. zebra may serve as camouflage, as an adaptation to to the resultant "waviness" of the air (Klingel, 1990). At a distance of a few hundred yards, the stripes make a mountain zebra appear indistinct. To some degree, stripes may also provide protection against blood-sucking insects that transmit disease such as bot-flies and ticks.
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Mountain zebras have a polygynous mating system. They form small breeding herds that consist of one adult stallion and 1 to 5 mares with young. Breeding herds remain stable over many years and mares usually remain in a herd for life.
The mating system of E. zebra results in a surplus of stallions. These stallions join bachelor groups which form “the reservoir from which herd stallions are recruited.” (Penzhorn 1988) New breeding bands may be formed when a bachelor stallion obtains a young mare from a maternal herd, or an older mare from a fragmented herd, although the latter is not as common.
If a dominant stallion is successfully driven away from his herd by a challenging stallion, the herd is taken over as a unit by the newcomer. Serious fighting, including kicking and biting, may occur when another stallion attempts to take over a herd.
Herd stallions approach each other and perform a challenge ritual when two breeding herds come into contact. The challenge ritual consists of nasonasal and nasogential contact, and body rubbing. Both stallions then continue grazing and will eventually move back to their own herds. Sometimes herds will join to form larger temporary populations.
Mating System: polygynous
The breeding season of mountain zebras lasts throughout the year. In E. z. zebra, there is a birth peak from December to February. In E. z. harmannae, births peak from November to April.
The gestation period for both subspecies is approximately one year, and one foal is produced per breeding season. Foals are about 25 kg at birth, and head and body length is about 120 cm. Foals are weaned at around 10 months of age.
The age of sexual maturity in E. zebra differs between males and females. The testes of E. z. hartmannae reach maximum size at approximately 42 months of age. Males are capable of aquiring and holding a herd at 5 to 6 years. Female mountain zebras first produce foals at between 3 and 6 years of age, with the mean age at first foaling being 66.5 months. Females have an inter-birth interval of 1 to 3 years, and may remain reproductively active until about 24 years of age.
Breeding interval: Mountain zebras breed every 1 to 3 years.
Breeding season: Copulation occurs year-round.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 365 days.
Average weaning age: 10 months.
Range time to independence: 13 to 37 months.
Average time to independence: 22 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 26 to 72 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 66.5 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 42 (low) months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous ; post-partum estrous
Average birth mass: 35000 g.
Average gestation period: 362 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Mountain zebra young are born well developed. For the first few weeks, foals remain close to their dams (mothers). The dam prevents interaction between the foal and other herd members by threatening any individual that comes too close.
The duration of lactation varies in E. zebra, and the final weaning time apparently depends upon the approaching birth of a sibling. Mares usually nurse foals in bouts of 90 seconds to 2 minutes. The suckling time typically consists of 3 periods. There is an initial suckling period lasting about 1 minute which is followed by a resting period of a few seconds. The second and final suckling period lasts for 10 to 20 seconds. For the first 3 months of life, foals typically nurse at hourly intervals during the day, after which, suckling frequency decreases. Foals often begin to nibble at grass when they are only a few days old. They are weaned after approximately 10 months of age.
Most E. zebra foals leave their maternal herds in summer. Equus zebra zebra young leave their maternal herds of their own volition. Not only are foals not forced out by the dominant herd stallion, but the stallion may actively try to prevent them from leaving. Foals leave the herd between 13 and 37 months of age, with an average age of 22 months. On average, foals leave their maternal herd 3 months after the birth of a sibling, and as such, the looming birth of a sibling does not appear to be particularly important to the timing of departure. In contrast, Hartmann’s mountain zebra mares try to expel their 14 to 16 month old foals from the herd before the birth of a sibling. After varying intervals, colts and fillies may rejoin their maternal herds for short periods.
The role of males in parental care is not direct. They may play some role in protecting the young of the herd.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents
It is the smallest of all existing zebra species and also the most geographically restricted. Although once nearly driven to extinction, the population has now been increased by several conservation methods, and is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. 
The Cape mountain zebra is one of two geographically separated subspecies of the species Equus zebra (mountain zebra), the other being Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae). The Cape mountain zebra was once was regarded as a separate species from Hartmann's mountain zebra based on taxonomic evidence, but recent genomic evidence has led to the two populations now being reclassified as subspecies of Equus zebra.
Like all zebra species, the Cape mountain zebra has a characteristic black and white striping pattern on its pelage, unique to individuals. As with other mountain zebras, it is medium-sized, thinner with narrower hooves than the common plains zebra, and has a white belly like the Grévy's zebra.
The Cape mountain zebra differs slightly from the Hartmann's subspecies, being stockier and having longer ears and a larger dewlap. Adults have a shoulder height of 116 to 128 cm, making them the most lightly built subspecies of zebra. There is slight sexual dimorphism with mares having a mass of around 234 kg and stallions weighing around 250–260 kg.
Stripes of the Cape subspecies are narrower and therefore more numerous than the other two zebra species, although slightly wider than those of the Hartmann's subspecies. Stripes on the head are narrowest, followed by those on the body. Much broader, horizontal stripes are found in the hind area of Cape mountain zebra, lacking the “shadow stripes” seen in the plains zebra. Stripes on the hind legs are broader than those of the front legs, and striping continues all the way down to the hooves. However, the dark vertical stripes stop abruptly at the flanks, leaving the belly white.
Historically, the Cape mountain zebra occurred throughout the montane regions of the Cape Province of South Africa. Today they are confined to several mountain reserves and national parks: mainly the Mountain Zebra National Park, but also the Gamka Mountain Reserve and Karoo National Park, amongst many others. As its name implies, like all mountain zebras, the Cape mountain zebra is found on slopes and plateaus of mountainous regions, and can be found at up to 2000m above sea level in the summer, moving to lower elevations in the winter.
The Cape mountain zebra (like Hartmann’s subspecies) is predominantly diurnal or crepuscular, and is most active early morning and from late afternoon to sunset. It generally drinks twice a day, and a daily dustbath is usual.
The Cape mountain zebra is a graminivore, meaning that its diet consists mainly of grasses. It is a highly selective feeder, showing a preference for greener leafy plants, particularly the South African red grass and the weeping lovegrass. In marginal habitat such as fynbos, mountain zebra have been found to also feed on young restio shoots, as well as underground bulbs. Low growing, very coarse, small stalky grasses, as well as dying leaf material are usually avoided. It has been seen that the Cape subspecies is a climax grazer, meaning it feeds at quite a high level off the ground. This means that increasing the abundance of low level grazers such as springbok will reduce grass height to a level lower than the zebra’s biting height, which could have detrimental consequences to the population.
The Cape mountain zebra is not territorial, and populations consist of small groups of two types: breeding groups and bachelor groups. A breeding herd consists of a mature stallion and up to five mares and their foals. Stallions that cannot obtain mares associate in less defined bachelor groups. Once established, breeding groups normally stay together for many years; one stallion in the Mountain Zebra National Park is known to have stayed with his herd for more than a decade until he was at least 17 years old. Foals leave their herds on their own accord at around 22 months of age, and unlike the Hartmann subspecies whose mares force foals out, stallions of the Cape subspecies actually try to prevent them leaving. This behavior of foals in free-ranging populations could be a mechanism to prevent inbreeding.
If two breeding herds meet, the stallions of each herd will approach each other and perform a challenging ritual: body rubbing, touching noses and nasogenital contact. A dominance hierarchy exists but doesn’t seem to correlate with leadership, which is selected randomly. It has been observed that the social hierarchy can change due to the birth of a foal: while fertile, lower ranking mares can threaten higher ranking ones, and mares with new-born foals are highly aggressive towards other members of the herd.
Breeding occurs throughout the year with birth peaks in December to February (summer), and a gestation period of 1 year. A single new-born weighs 25 kg, and are weaned off after 10 months. Bachelor males reach sexual maturity at 5– 6 years when they are capable of becoming herd stallions, while mares produce their first foals at 3–6 years and can remain reproductively active until around 24 years of age.
Due to excessive and prolonged hunting and habitat destruction in South Africa, populations of Cape mountain zebra have declined greatly during the last 300 years. Although once classified as Endangered, the subspecies is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List under criteria D1: its population being very small and restricted to fewer than 997 mature individuals. It is also listed on the CITES Appendix I due to being threatened with extinction and being affected by trade. The total population is currently estimated to be around 497 mature individuals, with low genetic variation indicating population fragmentation and drift. Mixing aboriginal populations is therefore used as a management strategy to try and avoid further loss of diversity.
Threats that the Cape subspecies still face are conversion of habitats to agricultural lands, competition with domestic livestock, hunting, persecution, and potential crossbreeding between the two subspecies, which would lead to further reduction of the already low genetic diversity.
Although never locally abundant, the Cape mountain zebra historically occurred throughout the mountain ranges of the southern Cape Province of South Africa. By 1922 however, only 400 were believed to survive. In 1936, when Minister of Lands (and former Boer War general) Jan Kemp was asked to set aside a special reserve for the Cape mountain zebra, to which he gave his now infamous reply: "No! They're just a lot of donkeys in football jerseys.”
A year later, in response to the continued decline, the government established the Mountain Zebra National Park on Acacia veld near Cradock, South Africa, but its small population of Cape mountain zebra died out in 1950. That same year reintroductions from nearby remnant populations began. Eleven animals were donated from a nearby farm in 1950, and in 1964 another small herd was added. By the late 1960s, the total Cape mountain population was only 140 but grew to 200 by 1979, with 75% of the animals residing in Mountain Zebra National Park. In 1984, the population was back to 400 individuals. Since then a few zebras have been reintroduced to the Cape Point Section of Table Mountain National Park.
It is the smallest of all existing zebra species and also the most geographically restricted. Although once nearly driven to extinction, the population has now been increased by several conservation methods, and is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
The mountain zebra comprises two subspecies:
In 2004, C. P. Groves and C. H. Bell investigated the taxonomy of the zebras (genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris). They concluded that the Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannea) are distinct, and suggested that the two would be better classified as separate species, Equus zebra and Equus hartmannae.
However, in a sexual genetic study that included 295 mountain zebra specimens, Moodley and Harley (2005) found nothing to support the separation of the two mountain zebra populations into separate species. They concluded that the Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann's mountain zebra should remain as subspecies.
The mountain zebra has a dewlap, which is more conspicuous in E. z. zebra than in E. z. hartmannae. Like all extant zebras, mountain zebras are boldly striped in black or dark brown, and no two individuals look exactly alike. The whole body is striped except for the belly. In the Cape mountain zebra, the ground colour is effectively white, but the ground colour in Hartmann's zebra is slightly buff.
Adult mountain zebras have a head-and-body length of 2.1 to 2.6 m (6 ft 11 in to 8 ft 6 in) and a tail of 40 to 55 cm (16 to 22 in) long. Wither height ranges from 1.16 to 1.5 m (3 ft 10 in to 4 ft 11 in). They weigh from 204 to 372 kg (450 to 820 lb).
Groves and Bell found that Cape mountain zebras exhibit sexual dimorphism, females being larger than males, whereas Hartmann's mountain zebras do not. Hartmann's zebra is on average slightly larger than the Cape mountain zebra.
Mountain zebras are found on mountain slopes, open grasslands, woodlands, and areas with sufficient vegetation, but their preferred habitat is mountainous terrain, especially escarpment with a diversity of grass species.
Mountain zebras live in hot, dry, rocky, mountainous and hilly habitats. They prefer slopes and plateaus as high as 2,000 m (6,600 ft) above sea level, although they do migrate lower during winter. Their preferred diet is tufted grass, but in times of shortage, they browse, eating bark, twigs, leaves, buds, fruit, and roots.
They drink every day. When no surface water is available due to drought, they commonly dig for ground water in dry river beds.
The Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann's mountain zebra are now allopatric, meaning that their present ranges do not overlap, which prevents them from crossbreeding. This was not always so, and the current situation is a result of their populations being fragmented when hunters exterminated them throughout the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Historically, mountain zebras could be found across the entire length of the escarpments along the west coast of southern Africa and in the fold mountain region in the south. However, they generally inhabited poorly productive land and were nowhere really numerous in comparison to those species of zebras or antelope that inhabited the plains, for example.
Mountain zebras do not aggregate into large herds like plains zebras; they form small family groups consisting of a single stallion and one to five mares, together with their recent offspring. Bachelor males live in separate groups, and mature bachelors attempt to capture young mares to establish a harem. In this they are opposed by the dominant stallion of the group.
Mares give birth to one foal at a time, for about 3 years baby foals gets weaned onto solid forage. Cape mountain zebra foals generally move away from their maternal herds sometime between the ages of 13 and 37 months. However, with Hartmann's mountain zebra, mares try to expel their foals when they are aged around 14 to 16 months. Young males may wander alone for a while before joining a bachelor group, while females are either taken into another breeding herd or are joined by a bachelor male to form a new breeding herd.
The main threats to the species are the loss of habitat to agriculture, hunting, and persecution. Poaching for food (for example, during guerrilla fighting) has decreased their numbers.
The species is listed as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List. The Cape mountain zebra was hunted to near extinction. In the 1930s, their population was reduced to about 100 individuals. However, consistent and vigorous conservation measures have succeeded in reversing the decline, and in 1998, the population of the Cape mountain zebra was estimated to have increased to some 1200, about 540 in national parks, 490 in provincial nature reserves, and 165 in other reserves. However, the population has increased to about over 2,700 in the wild due to conservation efforts.
Though both mountain zebra subspecies are currently protected in national parks, they are still threatened. The European Zoos Endangered Species Program and co-operative management of zoo populations worldwide have been set up for them.