Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the galleries of the BPI: The Cape Giant Zebra

This specimen is a partial set of jaws of Equus capensis, the so called cape giant zebra, from Makapansgat, the most northerly australopithecine site in South Africa. Actually, although robust these equids are not so giant, being about the size of a big modern horse. Fossils of this robust equuid are widespread throughout South Africa, with the type coming from close to Cape Town, way down in the southwest.
It is often said that Africa escaped the megafaunal extinctions of the late Pleistocene but there is a definite set of large African mammal species that clearly did not make it through to the present. These include the giant buffalo Pelorovis, other bovids like Megalotragus, and supposedly Equus capensis. But if Charles Churcher is right reports of E. capensis' demise are greatly exaggerated. It s apparently alive and well in the form of.... Grevy's Zebra.

Image from wikimedia commons

Apparently the teeth (which are what most extinct Equus taxonomy is based on)of E. capensis do not differ in significant ways from those of E. grevyi and a bunch of east and northern african fossil equiids (e.g. E. oldowayensis).
Grevy's zebra is now restricted to East Africa and cannot be found anywhere near Suth Africa. So if it doesn't represent an actual extinction it does represent a drammatic range contraction.


Churcher CS (2006)Distribution and history of the Cape zebra (Equus capensis) in the Quaternary of Africa. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 61:89-95


Traumador said...

That is really interesting!

I had no idea Africa had (at least supposed) recent mega fauna extinction (at least before human influnces).

Like always love learning new stuff here. Cheers

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

so Grevy's zebra! may be a dwarfed relative of this paleozebra or even it itself? cool!

Vultur said...

That's very interesting; I knew about Pelorovis, but I didn't know it had lasted to the Pleistocene!