glorious fixture of the African landscape, the
zebra is a very flashy member of the normally mousey-colored horse
family. Sporting a robust
body of bold stripes, the zebra spends its busy life on the move
best grazing in the mostly dusty world of the African savanna. Because
its skin is dark, many experts suggest that the zebra is a black
(sometimes brown) furred animal with white stripes,
while others will argue that the zebra has black stripes on a white
field, pointing out the animals white undersides. No matter, the effect
is dazzling, and provides this gregarious herd animal with a confusing
defense of fluctuating dark and light motion. When a group of zebras
rumbles passed a
lion, leopard or cheetah, it is virtually impossible for the predator
to pick out just one individual target. For the zebra, as is the case
with many herd animals, there is great security in numbers.
There are 3 main species of zebra. The most familiar are the
plains zebras of which there are 5 subspecies each with slight
variations in not only stripe pattern but color as well, some being
decidedly brown instead of black. Of these, the Grant's, a
hearty animal true, bold black and white stripes that grow wider as
reach the rump, is the classic zebra in type. Although there are some
more populous sub-species, and interbreeding occurs, the Grants remains
one of the most iconic sights on the African plains. The mountain
consist of 2 subspecies most easily distinguished by the fishbone
pattern across the top of the rump. Mountain zebras also
have a dewlap - a flap of loose skin at the throat, the function of
which is unclear. Finally, the Grevy's zebra is in its own sub genus
and is more
donkey-like. It has thinner more
numerous, and closely
often brown in color. All the zebra species are herd animals, highly
social and dependent on the camouflaging effect of a mass of striped
bodies for survival. Constantly moving, always alert for danger,
zebras have surprisingly good eyesight, and it is believed that,
monochrome themselves, they actually see the world around them in full
- Zebra Facts
at the edge of a watering hole there is danger but zebras love a crowd.
The herd instinct draws them together, the exquisite skin
often keeps them in one piece. Imagine a
crouching lion or hidden crocodile trying to select just
one target in a dazzling sea of stripes.
For well-camouflaged animals such as the zebra, it is more often
movement and not the outline of a form that attracts the predator to an
individual. A stilted gait, the bobbing head that comes with
a lame leg, a stumble, a hesitation, the curtain of healthy companions
rush away and the target is revealed.
But despite being every
bodies favorite meal, the plains zebra is an
extraordinarily successful animal, and though nature channels are rife
with scenes of tragic endings, the majority of zebras lead long lives
of 15 to 20 years. Even with territories dwindling as human-kind
encroaches, the plains zebra herds are over 3/4 of a million animals
Making More Zebras
The very social zebra requires the safety and comfort of a
survive. Two types of zebra herds exist, one being made up of a "harem"
of females and their foals escorted by 1 stallion, the other being a
"bachelor herd" of males who are either too young, too old, or
too timid to
gather a harem of their own.
Stallions are males at
least 5 years of age who have fought with other males for the right to
accompany and mate with the females in the harem. The females
have a hierarchy and will often walk in line in the
order in which they joined the group. The senior mare will make
the decisions for the herd, leading them to pastures and
The stallion will bring up the rear or patrol the flanks on the lookout
for predators and other males who might steal his mares away. Pregnancy
lasts for a year and the newborn struggles to its feet in a matter of
minutes. The skull of a newborn zebra is less than 1/2 the length of
mothers, but the babies legs are 95% the length of hers. Speed really
matters in the perilous world of a baby zebra and within moments of
birth the infant is on
its feet and ready to run, keeping
to the center
of the herd as much as possible and dodging the large
hungry jaws of
cheetahs, hyenas, lions and crocodiles on
a daily basis.
The mother does the parenting and will nurse the
for up to 18 months. Young males will leave the herd at between 1 and 2
years of age to
join a herd of bachelors. Likewise, young females will leave
when they come into their first estrus joining with a new dominant male
who has chased away all
suitors. Because both
the males and the females leave their original
herd, the harems that are formed are actually groups of
females who form strong bonds and live together as a family, usually
their entire adult lives.
Fight Club and the "Super Herd"
In some regions where populations are large, the plains zebras social
structure can be rather
complex. Multiple stallions with their harems and youngsters in tow,
will come together to form a "super herd" of up to 300 individuals.
When a bachelor herd approaches a "super herd" the stallions greet them
as a unit and work together to fight them off. When the battles are
over the stallions will return to their own harems. Within the "super
herd" the harem structure remains intact with each mare remaining
devoted to only her stallion, and each stallion keeping to his own
mares. - Zebra Facts
A Tale of Some Tushies - Zebra Identification Guide
Look to the rear when
trying to identify a zebra species or subspecies. Our first example is
the broad black stripes of the famous Grant's zebra (the rare Selous
zebra is similar).
Second: The 2-toned
and sometimes stripe- less legs of the Burchell's. (the
Chapman's and Crawshay's zebras are similar)
Third: The Grevy's has narrow,
close-set, often brown lines,
a prominent dorsal stripe with white outline and plush dark dorsal
hair. The stripes do not go under the belly.
Fourth: The "fish bone", or "gridiron" pattern across the top of the
rump of the mountain zebra. The mountain zebra tends to have the
biggest variation in stripe width across the body(photo
below) with narrow,
close-set stripes on the ribs changing abruptly to broad, wide-set
stripes on the sides of the buttocks. Stripes do not go under the
belly. Without a top view you can
usually still identify the mountain zebra from the side- look
tips of the fish bones! -Zebra Facts
So which zebra species is the mother/son duo in the photo to the left?
Yes! - A Grevys zebra mare and foal
Which Zebra is This?
If the zebra has the Grant's sturdy build, but thinner
two-toned stripes it is one of three subspecies. The Burchell's zebra,
the Chapman's zebra and the Crawshay's
zebras occasionally inter-breed
and make positive identification tricky, but of the three, the
Burchell's is the most common. In fact, the Burchell's is the most
populous of all the zebra species. This is most likely a Burchell's
mare and foal.-Zebra Facts
The Classic Zebra..
Beefy build, thick neck, big, broad, black stripes it is
the Grant's zebra. A mother and baby Grant's zebra in glorious black
Just look at the length of that foals legs - baby you were born to
A Few More Zebra Facts
Contrary to some claims, zebras, like all other equines,
identify each other by smell and vocalization, not by their
zebras stripes make it more difficult for predators to target one
individual out of the herd.
zebras occasionally occur in the wild. Often called "golden zebras"
they are not true albinos, but have pale tan or golden stripes and
light brown or even blue eyes.
What do you think of these fabulous animals? Leave a comment in the box below.
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