The zebra is one of the world’s most easily recognizable animals, thanks to its distinctive black and white coat. They are found in Africa, especially in the Southern and eastern regions. Zebras live in dry areas and have been known to subsist on low-quality vegetation over long periods.
Their beautiful appearance has captured the attention of people worldwide, with photographers even commenting on the animal’s photogenicity.
List of the Common Types of Zebra Species
There are 3 species of zebra found at present. Though all of them have a close resemblance in physical features, they do have some visible differences.
Body and Coloration: Zebras have chests shaped like barrels, tufted tails, elongated faces, and long necks with long, erect manes. Compared to other members of the Equidae family that also include horses and donkeys, their forelimbs appear longer than their hind limbs. Their slender legs have a toe shaped like a spade covered in a hard hoof. They have eyes located to the sides of their head, while their moderately long ears stand erect and are moveable.
They are known for their characteristic black and white stripes, precisely white coats with black stripes running across. The foals have brown stripes against a white coat. The brown color darkens with age and eventually becomes black, as seen in adult zebras.
Where are they found
All zebra species reside in Africa, with the Grevy’s zebra found in Eastern Africa, Plains zebra in Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Mountain zebra seen in southwestern Africa.
Their habitat varies from one species to the other. The Grevy’s and Plains zebras prefer open areas like grasslands, shrublands, and woodlands, while the Mountain zebra, as its name suggests, can be found in rocky outcrops and mountains.
How long do they live
On average, zebras live for 20 years in the wild, while their longevity spans 40 years in zoos.
What do they eat
Being strictly herbivores, they primarily eat grass but sometimes feed on fruits, roots, buds, leaves, and tubers if there is a lack of options available.
Zebras aren’t picky eaters, and in comparison to other hoofed herbivores, their digestive systems appear a lot simpler. They are pioneer grazers, the plains zebra, in particular, often mowing down the older grasses. In this manner, they make way for other grazers with specialized dietary requirements to feed on the more nutritious grasses.
These equine animals are known for traveling over long distances, with the Plains zebra migrating over 300 miles at a time.
They take regular dust baths and rub themselves against trees and rocks to shake off flies.
Zebras are seen in large groups, primarily led by a single stallion, several mares, and the juvenile offspring.
These equines sleep for approximately 7 hours, standing during the day and lying down at night.
Zebras have been known to show aggressive behavior in certain situations, such as fighting off predators or defending their young.
They communicate verbally, with the help of a series of vocalizations, such as squealing, snorting, yelping, or wheezing. Non-verbal communication includes rubbing noses as a greeting, nipping, and resting their heads against one another.
What eats zebras
The main threat to the zebras is lions, as they are the only big cat capable of killing healthy adults. However, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, and wild dogs can prey on them as well. Crocodiles also attack zebras that come to drink at a water source.
The stripes of a zebra may serve several purposes, with all of them not discovered yet. Verified adaptations include helping them camouflage themselves from predators. Other assumed purposes include regulating their body heat, repelling insects, and recognizing individual members of a group.
Zebras have very powerful legs, which not only help them run fast, but deliver powerful kicks, which can be fatal because of their hoofed feet.
Their strong teeth allow them to rip grass by the roots as well as bite any intruders in their territory. The spade-shaped canines seen in the male zebras serve as an important weapon during fighting.
The sideways location of their eyes right above their head gives them a proper vision helping them see over the tall grasses in their habitat.
Like other equines, zebras too have moveable ears helping them locate the source of the sound, enhancing their hearing.
How do they reproduce
In plains and mountain zebras, the female mates only with their harem stallion, while in Grévy’s zebras, they are more promiscuous, mating with males from different territories. Males check out the female’s reproductive state by showing a curled lip, and bared teeth, which is a common tactic among equines called the flehmen response, and if she consents, the female will allow him to mate. Male plains zebras are known to kill young that aren’t their own to bring their mothers to estrous, while others are shown to be more tolerant and will even raise their partner’s previous offspring.
After a gestation period of 11–13 months, a single foal is born and can run within an hour of birth. Newborn zebras follow anything in motion, so to prevent losing their foals; new mothers prevent other mares from approaching them during the period of imprinting. This involves familiarizing their striping pattern, scent, and vocalization on the baby zebras. Foals attempt to graze within a few weeks but may continue to nurse for eight to thirteen months. In Grevy’s zebras, the nursing lasts longer, and the foals don’t drink water until three months of age. While males reach sexual maturity after a year or two, they can only form their herd after six years.
Plains and mountain zebra foals are cared for primarily by their mothers. Still, if pack-hunting hyenas and dogs threaten them, the entire dazzle attempts to protect them by forming a protective front with the foals in the center, with the stallion rushing at anything that comes too close. In Grévy’s zebras, mothers gather in small groups and leave their young in “kindergartens” to be guarded by a male living in that territory.
As per the IUCN, the Plains zebra is “Near Threatened” or “NT”, the Mountain zebra is “Vulnerable” or “VU”, and the Grévy’s zebra is “Endangered” or “EN”. The reasons for this include habitat loss, competition with livestock, and hunting for their hide.
Zebra – FAQs
1. Are zebras horses?
While the two are not the same species, zebras and horses are closely related, belong to the same family (Equidae), and can even breed to produce offspring, often referred to a zorse or hebra. The pairing is odd and generally only occurs through outside interference.
2. What is a group of zebras called?
A herd of them is commonly referred to as a dazzle of zebras.
3. Are zebras dangerous?
They do not look very threatening, but zebras are known for aggressively kicking intruders as well as each other and even biting at other species, including humans.
4. Can zebras be domesticated?
Despite their similarities to horses, one cannot domesticate zebras because of their unpredictable nature and unfriendly demeanor towards people. Also, they are smaller and unable to lift heavy cargo that horses can and are also unsuitable for riding.
5. How fast do zebras run?
Zebras are not as fast as horses, running at average speeds of 40mph.
6. Are okapis related to zebras?
Despite similar appearances, okapis are more closely related to giraffes than zebras.
The zebra has been featured heavily in African art and culture for millennia, being depicted in rock art in prehistoric Southern Africa.
The national animal of Botswana is the plains zebra and was used on stamps during colonial and post-colonial Africa. For African diaspora people, the zebra represented the politics of race and identity, being both black and white.
Zebras have featured prominently in various media. For instance, in the comic Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, the titular character has been depicted riding a zebra, while the characters of Zoë in the TV show Peppa Pig and Marty in the movie Madagascar are some examples of them appearing in animated form.
In September 2021, three zebras escaped a breeding farm in Maryland, Florida. Two of them were caught, while one died after getting caught in a snare trap.