International Zebra Day 2021

January 31st is designated International Zebra Day. These amazing black and white striped animals definitely deserve their own special day! 

Zebras (Equus quagga) belong to the horse family along with donkeys. They are more closely related to donkeys than horses. Native to southern and central Africa, they live mainly in grasslands and Savannahs.

Zebra habitat map of Africa
Map of zebra habitats
Characteristics
  • Length: 2.3 metres
  • Height: 1.5 metres tall at shoulder
  • Weight: 400kg
  • Lifespan: 20-25 years in the wild, 25-30 years in captivity

Communication: bark, bray and snort. Bared teeth or flattened ears means ‘back off’ or risk being kicked by their powerful back legs.

Braying zebra
Braying zebra

Vision: excellent day and night eyesight, eyes are located on the side of their head to allow them to always be alert for predators

Hearing: excellent hearing for detecting predators

A zebra’s skin is black. They have a hairy black coat which is broken up by stripes of white unpigmented hair.  Foals are born with brown and white stripes, their hair darkens to black as they mature. Zebra stripes are unique to each individual animal.

Scientists have given several possible reasons why zebras are striped. Such as, to confuse and protect them from predators, repel insects (horse flies, tsetse flies) and thermoregulation. 

Zebras, Zimbabwe
A quartet of zebras,Zimbabwe

Domestication: zebras are wild animals and have never been domesticated. They are very aggressive, unpredictable and definitely not ‘people friendly’. The reason for this is that zebras have had to survive in Africa amongst large predators and have developed strong instincts for fighting.

Zebras on the lookout for predators, Serengeti National Park
Zebras on the lookout, Serengeti National Park

Stallions have been known to fight to the death, biting and kicking, particularly when they are fighting for a female. Their fierce fighting skills also help when fighting off predators such as lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs. They will always help others in the herd when needed. Being herbivores, they spend most of their day eating grass, leaves, shrubs, twigs and bark. Their teeth are well adapted for grazing, with sharp incisors at the front of their mouths to bite the grass, and large molars at the back for crushing and grinding twigs and bark.

They are fast runners and can run up to 65km/h to outrun their predators (e.g. human, lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, and wild dogs). They will often run in a zigzag pattern to confuse their predators.

Zebras are considered nomadic as they don’t have specific territories.

Zebras will often stand like this as each one will be watching out for predators while they are resting
Zebras will often stand like this as each one will be watching out for predators while they are resting

Zebras live in family groups of up to 5-20 individuals, with one dominant male (stallion), several females (mares) and their foals. They stay together in herds of up to 1000 individuals, called a ‘dazzle’.  At around 3 years old, males will leave the herd and search for females to create their own herd. 

Golden Zebra
Rare golden zebra, Serengeti National Park
three species of zebras  

Grevy’s zebras: with thinner stripes. These zebras can be found in dry, semi-desert areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. Population approximately 2,500 individuals left in the wild and are listed as ‘endangered’ (IUCN Red List of Endangered species). 

Mountain zebras: have vertical stripes on their bodies and horizontal stripes on their legs. These zebras live in mountainous and hilly habitats in Namibia, Angola and South Africa. Population: approximately 25,000 individuals in the wild and are listed as ‘vulnerable’ (IUCN).

Plains zebras: have faint brown stripes between their black stripes. These zebras are the most common species and roam in grasslands and woodland of eastern and southern Africa. Population around 500,000 individuals in the wild and listed as ‘near threatened’ (IUCN). 

THREATS are human mediated

Zebras are hunted for their skin and meat, both of which are still in great demand.

Habitat loss: due to human encroachment on zebra habitats for farming which is severely impacting on zebra grazing areas.

Zebras in Serengeti National Park
Zebras, Serengeti National Park

REFERENCES
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/p/plains-zebra/

https://www.livescience.com/27443-zebras.html

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41013/45172424

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