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Zebra Population Study

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The megafauna of Gorongosa National Park (GNP) in Mozambique was nearly annihilated during the Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992). Since 2007, most populations have grown (naturally or aided by translocations), except for the zebra. Plains zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi) were among the most abundant ungulates in pre-war GNP, with at least 4,000 individuals in 1970. Three zebras were also among the 32 individuals of 6 ungulate species detected in the first postwar aerial survey of GNP in 1994, showing that zebra survived the conflict. Since then, however, while other ungulates have proliferated into the thousands or tens of thousands, zebra have failed to increase, with numbers never exceeding ~40 individuals. 

We are addressing numerous questions to understand how to best help the GNP zebra population to rebound:

  • Why is the current population not growing? 
    • Are the females cycling and reproducing? 
    • Is the existing population very inbred? 
    • Are the zebras competing with other herbivores for food? 
  • For future translocation efforts, which zebra populations are most similar genetically to the GNP zebras? 

Fecal hormone analyses grant reproductive insights, while fecal metabarcoding allows us to consider if limitations to a natural diet are a factor in the decline. Whole genome sequencing gives visibility into inbreeding as well as genetic similarity with zebras in other regions.

So far, the lab has generated whole genome sequencing data for over 150 plains zebra range-wide. This is inclusive of individuals from Gorongosa for specific insight into how Gorongosa individuals compare to the rest of the plains zebra population.

Our collaborators: