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New to the Zoo, his species represents a dramatic and unusual conservation turnaround

Zoo Atlanta is pleased to welcome Casper, a 1-year-old male bontebok, to the African Savanna. Born at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio, Casper was recommended to move to Atlanta by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP). As he is still adjusting to his new home, sightings are not yet guaranteed.

Among the rarest antelopes in South Africa, bonteboks are medium-sized antelopes, with males weighing up to 175 pounds. They are mostly dark brown in color, with distinctive white blazes in the centers of their faces. Both sexes have horns that can grow up to 18 inches long.

This species represents one of modern history’s most dramatic and unusual conservation turnarounds. Reduced to a population of fewer than 20 individuals by the early 20th century, bonteboks faced almost certain extinction by 1931, when a group of farmers transferred a herd to protected land (Bontebok National Park) to save the species. All animals in the present-day population, which now numbers almost 2,000, descend from this original herd. These include North American zoological populations overseen by the SSP, which seeks to maintain healthy, self-sustaining and genetically diverse populations for future generations.

Classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), bonteboks outside zoos are found only in protected areas in South Africa. Their primary threats are habitat fragmentation and low genetic diversity resulting from the small number of founding animals. The species is also particularly sensitive to climate variability, as bonteboks’ reproductive success is closely connected with rainfall.

“We are very excited to welcome Casper to Zoo Atlanta. This is a beautiful species many people have never heard of, with a story most people have likewise never heard,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “We look forward to introducing our Members and guests to this wonderful new addition to the already majestic complement of wildlife in our African Savanna.”

Casper will have an opportunity to explore his new surroundings on his own before being introduced to the giraffes, zebras, and ostriches who will share his mixed-species habitat. These introductions, which are approached very gradually with one species at a time, can take several weeks.

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