The status of Namibia’s Hartmann’s zebra

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| Extracts on the status and distribution of the Hartmann’s zebra in Namibia from the Master’s thesis of Elly Hamunyela.

Main photo Paul van Schalkwyk

H artmann’s zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) is a near endemic to Namibia with a secure and stable population of approximately 24 000 animals in the country. The table below shows the population estimates and densities of Hartmann’s zebra under different land tenure categories in the country.

Historically, Hartmann’s zebra had a continuous distribution range extending from Mossamedes in Angola to just south of the Orange River in South Africa. In Angola, Hartmann’s zebra occurred in the Iona National Park immediately to the north of the Kunene River. In earlier times this sub-species also occurred in the Cape Province of South Africa.

The current distribution of Hartmann’s zebra is discontinuous in Namibia. It is currently concentrated in five main areas, namely from the Kunene Region southwards more or less to the Ugab River and eastwards to the Outjo district; the Erongo mountains; the escarpment from the Swakop River south to the Naukluft Mountains and eastwards along the Kuiseb and Gaub drainages into the Khomas Hochland; the Fish River Canyon; and the Huns Mountains near the Orange River. The species is present in Namibia’s largest protected areas including the Etosha National Park (22 270 km2) and the Namib-Naukluft Park (49 768 km2) and is now considered to be near endemic (95%) to Namibia. To a minimal extent, this species is also still believed to occur in the south-western part of Angola, but the status there is unknown. It also occurs marginally in South Africa, where it has been introduced to private land outside of the historic range.

Land tenure Estimate Approximate area (km2) Density/km2
Protected Areas  

4 688





Communal area  

8 673





Commercial farmlands  

10 588






23 949





The current population estimate of Hartmann’s zebra, at approximately 24 000, shows that the species is abundant, even though the distribution has become more fragmented than in the past. This might be the result of drought spells that occurred in the earlier 1980s, but is more likely the result of human activities, including increases in game-proof fencing.

Namibia faces major challenges in protecting this species. The total population in protected areas is only 20% of the entire estimated national population, not enough to be relied on for ensuring the long-term conservation and health of the species in the country. This is due to the unavailability of surface water in most formal protected areas within Namibia. The other contributing factor is that suitable habitats in the protected areas are extremely limited. In the Etosha National Park for example, Hartmann’s zebra are restricted to a small area in the south-western part of the park, since the rest of the park is not mountainous and therefore not suitable habitat. Other protected areas where surface water is available, for example the Khaudum and Bwabwata national parks in the north-western part of Namibia are flat and sandy, and therefore do not provide suitable habitat for Hartmann’s zebra.

Commercial farming areas contain over 44% of the national population of Hartmann’s zebra, despite being the areas where utilisation pressure is highest. In the Khomas Hochland and the Erongo Mountains, the high density could be due any of the following factors:

  • The ruggedness of the terrain, which means that some of the areas are simply not accessible to hunters.
  • Much of this area forms part of a commercial conservancy, and is managed in a way that ensures sustainable wildlife utilisation. Because farmers within the conservancy are actually benefiting from wildlife through consumptive utilisation, trophy hunting and tourism, they have a much greater tolerance, and in fact, a specific interest in retaining high populations of Hartmann’s zebra.

Communal areas contain 36% of the present national population of Hartmann’s zebra, and these areas probably has the highest potential for increase in range and numbers of the species. The core area of Hartmann’s zebra distribution in these areas falls within communal conservancies where better management practices are enforced, including good law enforcement, relative to other communal areas outside conservancies. There is clear evidence that wildlife numbers in general within the north-western part of Namibia have been steadily increasing, and this includes Hartmann’s zebra. This trend can be expected to continue, as communities increasingly reap the benefits from sustainable of use wildlife resources.

Trade and utilisation measures

Hartmann’s zebra is listed as a specially protected species under the Namibian Nature Conservation Ordinance (Ordinance 4 of 1975). Due to this listing, the species may only be utilised with a permit issued by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the agency responsible for conservation and management of wildlife in Namibia. Permits must be applied for in advance of utilisation, and the person killing such an animal must have the permit in his/her possession while hunting. The permit system is meant to ensure that utilisation is sustainable and assists the MET to maintain records of the number of zebras hunted per year.

Currently, for any kind of utilisation (shoot and sell, shoot for own use or trophy hunting) except for keep, capture and sell, however, permits to utilise Hartmann’s zebra are issued only for a maximum of four animals at a time, regardless of the population estimate. If a farmer wants to utilise more animals, he/she is requested to re-apply once the previous quota has been taken out. During drought spells, a farmer can be allowed to utilise more than four animals per permit, provided he/she submits a motivation in writing at the time of applying for such a permit. All approvals are based on the findings of farm inspections, which are conducted by MET officers once every three years or more frequently, if there is a need.

The striking Hartmann’s zebra is distinguished from its cousin, the Burchell’s zebra, by the absence of shadow stripes and white belly. Photo ©Hennie Victor

It is an offence to possess or trade in Hartmann’s zebra skins or parts without a permit issued by the relevant authority. In the case of exports, an applicant has to have proof that the specimen was legally obtained by means of a receipt (if purchased from a trophy dealer, trophy manufacturer or a curio shop) or permit for utilisation before any export is authorised.

The Hartmann’s zebra has been listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since June 28, 1979. Listing on Appendix II indicates that while the species is not necessarily threatened with extinction at this time, it may become so unless trade is strictly regulated. However, as already mentioned, Hartmann’s zebra was primarily listed as a look-alike species to Cape mountain zebra. Trade-in specimens of Hartmann’s zebra require issuance of CITES import permits, export permits and re-export certificates. Under CITES regulations, import permits are not a pre-requisite to issue an export permit.

The Hartmann’s zebra has been included in Annex B of the European Community (EC) since June 1, 1997. Trade from and to the EC in Hartmann’s zebra requires the issuance of import permits, export permits and re-export certificates, which applies to CITES Appendix II species. In the case of export/re-export of a Hartmann’s zebra specimen to any EC member state, an EC member state must issue an import permit first before an export/re-export permit is issued (Regulation (EC) 338/97).

National and International utilisation

A total of 22 523 animals were domestically utilised during the period of 1990–2000. For that period, shoot and sell (55.89%) has been the major contributor to the overall domestic utilisation, followed by trophy hunting (15.50%). A total of 4 848 Hartmann’s zebra were reported imported from Namibia during 1979–1991 (WCMC data). During the period 1992-2001, Namibia exported products from 16 107 Hartmann’s zebra: 5 336 as hunting trophies, 1967 as personal effects and 8 804 for commercial purposes.

From the year 1994 until 1997, there was a progressive increase in the number of Hartmann’s zebra involved in international trade. A sharp decline was experienced between 1997 to 1998. During 1998 to 2001, there was again a progressive increase in the total number of Hartmann’s zebra exports, although not as steep as for the period of 1994-1997. The highest export during the entire period of 1992–2001 took place in 1997, whilst the lowest was in 1992. The level of exports as trophies has remained reasonably constant throughout the period, whilst exports for commercial purposes fluctuate. Namibia only started recording products going out as personal effects in 1995 and this type of export has been increasing over the years.

More than half of the total number of animals exported from Namibia during the 1992–2001 period were exported for commercial purposes, followed by hunting trophies and personal effects, respectively.

According to the records available, South Africa (59%) followed by Germany (15%) have been major importers of Hartmann’s zebra specimens from Namibia. The United States of America (6%) and Austria (4%) are also identified as main destinations of Hartmann’s zebra specimens (Figure 28) (Annex 1).

Until 1997, Namibia exported 180 live Hartmann’s zebra for zoos and re-introduction purposes, of which 99.4 % went to South Africa.

Perceptions of Namibian farmers towards Hartmann’s zebra

In Namibia, Hartmann’s mountain zebras are perceived as a nuisance by many farmers because:

  • The mountainous and arid terrain that these zebra inhabit does not lend itself to any agricultural activity other than large livestock production. In these areas, the only other abundant wildlife herbivore is the kudu, which, being primarily a browser, does not compete directly with cattle. In contrast, Hartmann’s zebra is a grazer, and is therefore in direct competition with cattle, causing livestock farmers the greatest concern as these animals occupy the same feeding niche.
  • They are considered to break fences; and
  • They are said to cause erosion.

In spite of this, some farmers see the Hartmann’s zebra as an economic asset due to its value for hunting purposes (i.e. trophy hunting, sport hunting, hunting for own use), sale of skins, live capture and photo-tourism.

This article was first published in the Conservation and the Environment in Namibia 2003/4 issue.

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