The Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock was formed to conserve the last remaining population of the Cape mountain zebra. Its success means the park's focus has shifted beyond a ‘species park’ to conserving the biodiversity of the region. As such, the park offers a unique African Karoo wildlife experience.

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During the 1900s, British soldiers played long-distance chess in this area, using a heliograph to transmit their moves. 

The Mountain Zebra National Park is situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg mountain range near Cradock, in the Eastern Cape Midlands.

The park was first proclaimed in 1937, when the former National Parks Board, the fore-runner of the South African National Parks, realised that Cape mountain zebra numbers had plummetted.

A 1 712ha park was hurriedly proclaimed, but the remaining six zebra failed to breed, and by 1940, these handsome beasts existed in name only. A decade later, local land owners bordering the park stepped in, and donated animals from dwindling herds still in existence on their farms. Foal by foal, the Cape mountain zebra fought its way back from extinction.

Today, population numbers are healthy enough for zebras to be relocated to re-establish herds elsewhere.

In keeping with the park's conservation legacy, small numbers of plains zebras, bearing a strong genetic resemblance to the quagga, an extinct subspecies of plains zebra, have been reintroduced.

The park's size has increased to nearly 29 000ha, thanks in part to money raised by British artist David Shepherd. As a result of this initiative, endangered black rhinos are also thriving in the thorny plains and Cape buffalo and cheetah have also been reintroduced.

There are two main routes to explore. Along the Kranskop loop, spy tiny klipspringer antelope, mountain reedbuck and grey rhebok in the uplands; then descend into the territory of Cape buffalo, black rhino and eland.

The Rooiplaat loop traverses the grasslands that sustain springbok, Cape mountain zebra, blesbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and gemsbok. Predators in the park include caracal, omnivorous brown hyena, and more recently cheetah, the first to roam this area in a century.

Around 216 bird species have been recorded here, including ostrich, secretary bird, blue crane and Ludwig’s bustard, which make for interesting sightings, as do Verreaux’s (black) and martial eagles, and jackal buzzards.

Besides its uncommon wildlife, the park is notable for its threatened vegetation biomes (grassland, Nama Karoo, thicket and savannah), which all contribute to the biodiversity and wild, elemental beauty of the park.

Whether you escape to the craggy peaks, so typical of this landscape, for a secluded picnic, or braai (barbeque) beside the pool before a late afternoon game drive, you’ll find the Mountain Zebra National Park a rare, rewarding wildlife experience.

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