A new delicacy may soon become a staple of any braai, as new evidence from animal scientists at Stellenbosch University shows that zebra meat is an ideal species for food production.
Producing some of the leanest meats in the world, with an average of 0.5g of fat per 100g and high levels of protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, studies show that zebra meat is an ideal alternative.
These findings come as the government finalises SA’s new game meat strategy, aimed at formalising, transforming and expanding an industry dominated by impala, springbok, kudu, wildebeest and blesbok.
The analysis of 20 carcasses, published last month, found that zebra compares favourably to many game, equine and livestock species.
“The considerable contribution of the edible byproducts and the high muscle yield indicate that the Plains zebra can potentially be used as a valuable protein source, thereby contributing to food security in especially rural areas of SA,” reads the report.
The analysis saw eight zebra stallions killed by a hunter in 2017 and another 12 that were culled, in January 2018, near Riebeeck Kasteel.
The skin, head, offal and hooves were removed, before the carcasses were quartered and seven muscles were removed and weighed.
The highest-yielding animal produced over 24kg of meat, while the average was 18.5kg. Edible offal amounted to about 110kg on average, with a maximum of 136kg.
According to researcher Angelique Myburgh, the animals harvested in the winter yielded more protein, probably due to seasonal differences in diet and foraging behaviour. “The differences found between the two groups are most likely due to the effect of the harvesting season on subcutaneous fat deposition and, as a result, body composition,” she said, adding that there were also other factors that counted in the zebras’ favour.
“They are physiologically and behaviourally adapted to survive in semi-arid conditions with low-quality forage. They are a good candidate for mixed-species farming and can be maintained at higher stocking densities than similar-sized ruminants in grasslands of poor nutritional quality.”
In July, the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment published a draft game meat strategy, which says zebras comprise 4.4% of South Africa’s game population.
“The game meat industry performs predominantly in the informal market while about 10% of game meat enters the retail market,” the document says.
“The industry in general is very fragmented. The aim of this strategy will thus be to create a formalised game meat industry [and] to achieve economies of scale necessary for commercial ventures based primarily on game meat production, harvesting, processing, distribution and marketing.”
“The game meat industry is largely untransformed, and there is a very low participation rate of previously disadvantaged individuals. In addition, there are large areas of community-owned land suitable for plains game. [This] provides an opportunity for community-based enterprises to drive rural socio-economic development.”