Conservationists from WCS, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), released an incredible video today showing the successful re-introduction of 24 zebras into Tanzania’s Kitulo National Park in the Southern Highlands region last week – part of a bold effort to re-wild this once pristine landscape. Watch the video here.

Half a century ago zebras were hunted to extinction or otherwise removed from this region for state-run sheep ranching and dairy farming which have since been abandoned. 

The zebras – which included 16 adult/subadult females, six adult/subadult males, and two juvenile males were translocated from Mikumi National Park some 700 kilometers (434 miles) away in eastern Tanzania. Four of the animals have been equipped with satellite collars so conservationists can track their movements in real time.

Said Dr. Tim Davenport, Director of WCS Tanzania Program, who first conceived the re-wilding project in the early 2000s and who designed the re-introduction: “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.”   

Lead TANAPA veterinarian Dr. Emmanuel Macha said: “Some people were skeptical 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.”

The release, which took place on October 12th and 13th is part of a long-term effort by WCS to re-wild key habitats in the Southern Highlands. WCS has already planted some 4 million indigenous trees so far to restore woodlands and restore corridors for duikers and the kipunji – a new species of monkey WCS discovered in the region in 2003.

The Kitulo plateau where the zebras were released contains the best remaining example of one of eastern Africa's rarest biomes: montane grassland. WCS helped establish as a national park here in 2002. These high-altitude habitats need to be burned every five years and must be grazed to prevent a monoculture of grasses outcompeting the native terrestrial orchids. Due to conservation in the last decade, southern reedbuck and steenbok (two midsize antelope species) have come back in numbers, and now zebras will join them.

The zebra release has been in the works for two years as WCS carried out feasibility studies, ecological surveys – especially for grasses, forage and food availability – an EIA (environmental impact assessment), sensitization program, and education in all villages around the park. Noah Mpunga and Sophy Machaga from WCS led the field work and coordinated logistics, along with Vicky Mbofu and Anthony Minazi from the WCS education team who spent a year in local villages familiarizing the communities with the idea. WCS worked closely with TANAPA at crucial stages especially their veterinarians, most notably Dr. Emmanuel Macha.

The relocation was made possible by WCS with funds from USAID through the SHARPP project, and from Ashley Scott (Dula Foundation). WCS worked in close conjunction with TANAPA and TAWIRI.