Citizen Science Helps Mountain Zebra Research in Etosha National Park

28 Mar 2017 | News

Visitors to Etosha National Park can help conservation science by photographing mountain zebra

The Mountain Zebra Project, based at the Namibia Nature Foundation, and led by biologist Morris Gosling, has worked on the mountain zebras in the western part of Etosha National Park, since 2012. As in other areas of Namibia, the project employs an individual-based approach and individual zebra are recognized by fingerprint-like variation in their stripe patterns. Records of individuals can then be accumulated to build up information about population processes and behaviour.

But, up to now, the project has not taken full advantage of the fact that many visitors to Etosha take excellent photographs of zebras amongst those of the other spectacular wildlife that lives there. If some of these photos can reach us, they will add to records of individual zebra and transform our understanding of this little known species. Our aim is to encourage people to send their photos as files attached to emails (to, via Dropbox or to the project’s Facebook page Feedback on the individuals identified will be provided to photographers. JPEG images are most useful and quality needs to be reasonably good to decode stripe patterns.

The situation in Etosha is complicated because two species of zebra live there: mountain zebra, or Hartmann’s mountain zebra to give them their full name; and the more numerous Burchell’s zebra, a type of plains zebra. Mountain zebra are mainly confined to the western part of Etosha, an area called Otjovasandu, which contains the famous Dolomite Lodge. Burchell’s zebra overlap with mountain zebra in Otjovasandu and visit the same waterholes (both species are strongly water-dependent) and they also extend throughout the central and eastern parts of the Park where mountain zebra are generally absent. Many people who visit Etosha will learn to distinguish these two species for the first time and once this is achieved they are in a position to send photos of mountain zebra for use in our project. The differences can be seen in attached PDF file.

-Morris Gosling