Bringing Sable Back to Mapunguwe

by Joel Roerig
GVI volunteer

Four Sable were released into Mapungubwe National Park early on Friday morning, as part of a project that reintroduces animals bred in European Zoos, into the wild.

The project is run by the non-profit organization Back to Africa in close cooperation with South African National Parks (SANParks). Scientists the world over are watching this project. If the antelope do well, more animals will be released later in an effort re-establish a viable population of Sable in an area where they were once prolific.

Zoos in The Netherlands (Diergaarde Blijdorp), the Czech Republic (Dvur Kralove nad Labem) and Great Britain (Marwell Zoological Park) contributed to the breeding stock of Sable in Graspan. The Sable being released in Mapungubwe are the offspring of these animals that have been breeding up over the last few years. The plan is to develop a viable population in Graspan for introduction into parks such as Mapungubwe.

Director of Back to Africa Dr. Hamish Currie of is delighted that SANParks supports the project at Graspan and has made Mapungubwe available for the release of these animals.

He hopes that participating in this project will contribute to the existing research on the quickly declining number of Sable in Kruger, as Mapungubwe National Park is quite similar in many respects to the northern part of the Kruger National Park (KNP). Experts estimate that less than 200 Sable are left in KNP.


Currie also believes that bringing the genes of zoo-bred animals back to Africa aligns well with Mapungubwe's strong focus on cultural heritage.

Using GPS, Back to Africa will monitor the released animals daily to determine if the vegetation of the area is suitable and sufficient for the animals' grazing needs. They are also curious to see if the Sable avoid the park's predators, which include lions, leopards and hyaenas.

Depending on the success of this pilot project, Currie hopes a population of 50 sables will eventually roam this national park on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Currie believes that Zoos like Diergaarde Blijdorp are setting an example by providing animals and money for Back to Africa, "and not just breeding animals because they want to show a lot of babies to the public".

Mapungubwe National Park Section Ranger Howard is also enthusiastic about the reintroduction of Sable into the park. "These animals will attract tourists. Besides this, it is a pleasure that we can help to find out if the animals can thrive in our park".

Mtate says the sables are playing an important role in the further development of the park, which is still expanding.