Half a century ago zebras were hunted to extinction in the region, now the area is being rewilded and the zebras are leading the charge.
You know what Tanzania's Southern Highlands should have? Zebras! Once plentiful in the region, they've been gone for 50 years, hunted to extinction or removed to make room for sheep ranching and dairy farming.
But now that those agricultural pursuits have been put to rest, it's time for the wild flora and fauna to return. And conservationists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) are on it. They've just released a goosebumps-inducing video (below) showing the reintroduction of 24 zebras into Tanzania’s Kitulo National Park.
The patterned pack included 16 adult and subadult females, six adult and subadult males, and two juvenile males. The zebras came from Mikumi National Park in eastern Tanzania.
The Kitulo plateau, where the zebras were released, plays home to the best remaining example of one of eastern Africa's rarest biomes: montane grassland, according to the WCS.
Now if you're thinking it might be tricky to simply release a bunch of wild animals into a new area, you would be correct. The highlands have been undergoing conservation for a decade, and the zebra reintroduction, specifically, has been years in the making. WCS carried out feasibility studies, ecological surveys (think grasses, forage and food availability), an environmental impact assessment, a sensitization program, and education in all the surrounding villages.
The rewilding project was initially conceived of in the early 2000s by Dr. Tim Davenport, Director of WCS Tanzania Program. Of watching the release, he says:
It was thrilling to see the zebras moving across the plateau as they had for untold centuries. This collaboration proves that we can restore wildlife in once degraded landscapes – provided there is political will and good science behind these efforts.
“Some people were skeptical," admitted TANAPA lead veterinarian Dr. Emmanuel Macha, "but we achieved it. It is great to see zebra once again enjoying this beautiful landscape. Perhaps we can re-introduce impala, waterbuck or eland next.”
All of this is part of a long-range initiative by the WCS to rewild key habitats in the Southern Highlands. They have already planted around 4 million native trees in an effort to restore woodlands and corridors for duikers and the kipunji – a new species of monkey discovered there in the early 2000s.
And now they've added zebras to the mix, just as it should be. Watch them in the video below as they take to the landscape ... it's so beautiful, as if they never left.
You can learn more about the beautiful Southern Highlands and the work WCS is doing there, here.