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Zebra Facts

The Mountain Zebra

* The three species of zebra are no more closely related to each other than they are to horses and asses. - The other members of the family Equidae.

* The zebra will forage for grass for 60 to 80 per cent of a 24-hour period.

* The zebra mixes easily with other grass-eaters, such as wildebeests, as they feed on grass at different stages of growth.

* When grooming itself, the zebra is particularly fond of rolling in mud. When the mud dries and is shaken off, loose hair and dry skin is pulled away.


The Grevy's Zebra

* The dung heaps that mark the territory of a Grevy's stallion may be over 40cm high, and cover several metres of ground.

* Only the male zebra has pointed canine teeth, which are usually only a feature of flesh-eating animals. It uses these teeth in rivalry fights with other stallions.

* Grevy's is thought to have been the first zebra known to man. It is also probably the hippotigris, or 'horse tiger', that was used in the circuses of Ancient Rome.

* Reaching speeds of up to 55km/h, Grevy's zebra often trots or gallops over the grasslands, while the plains zebra usually canters.


Zebras are part of the same family as horses. So a young one is called a foal, the name for baby horses.

They look different than a horse though, they are covered in beautiful black and white stripes.

  • The mother zebra, who is called a mare, carries her foal for about a year. About an hour after it is born, a zebra foal can stand on its long thin legs. It stays close to its mother until it is strong enough to run. The mother protects it from lions and other dangers.
  • Even when it is a year old, a zebra foal still likes its mothers milk. But some zebra mares have a foal every year, so the year old foal will have to make way for the baby and go on to eat what the adult zebras eat.
  • Each foal knows its own mother. They need to because they live in groups, called herds. A herd has one male zebra, the stallion. Then there are up to six mares and their foals. When one zebra starts to run, the rest run too.
  • The hair along a zebras neck stands up instead of hanging down like a horse's mane. The neck stripes go right up into the mane.
  • Every zebra has its own special pattern which others recognize.
  • Burchell's zebra is the most common one. There are about 300,000 of them living wild in Africa.
  • There are also Grevy's zebra living in Africa, although there are not as many of them as Burchell's zebra. It is taller and heavier than Burchell's zebra. It has big round furry ears and long legs. The biggest difference between the Grevy's zebra and Burchell's is in the stripes. The stripes on Grevy's zebra are much closer. This makes it harder for lions to see them in the long grass. Lions eat zebras when they can catch them. Zebras eat grass. The herd moves from place to place to find more grass.
  • A little bird, called a fork-tailed drongo, often travels with them. It sits on the zebra's back and eats the insects which are kicked up by its hooves.
  • Zebras drink at water-holes. Zebras need to have a long drink once a day. They like to stand in the water too.
  • Dust can be useful too. When a zebra has an itchy back, it lies down and has a good roll. Zebras also help each other with itches. They nibble along their backs to get rid of insects.
  • Sometimes they are not so friendly. Young males live together in groups until they start a herd of their own. When their is a young female around, the stallions will bite and kick one another. But they don't fight to the death. When one has had enough, he lowers his head and trots away.
  • Most of the time zebras get along well together. They also get along well with other animals. They can be seen drinking along side a kudu or a giraffe at a water hole.
  • Unlike horses, zebras cannot be trained and tamed by people. People used to hunt them for their skins. Now we try to look after them. Zebra are native to Sub-Saharan Africa.  Two prominent African Zebra species are Plains Zebra (Equus burchelli) and Grevy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi).  They may look similar but they show many different behavior traits.

    Plains Zebra can be identified by their broad stripes.  They inhabit grasslands and savannas spanning all over eastern and southern Africa.  Their mouths are specially adapted to eat all types of grasses, from tall and rough to short and tender.  They compensate for poor digestion by eating throughout most of the day.  They also cannot go for long times without water.

    The social structure of Plains Zebra can be compared to that of horses.  Though they are not territorial, adult males do acquire harems consisting of several unrelated females.  Plains Zebra harems are relatively stable.  Mares do not often leave the harem and the stallion is rarely replaced.  Outside males will usually only disturb a harem to steal one of the adolescent females.  Young males also leave the harem at adolescence to join bachelor herds where they play and fight with other colts until they are ready to acquire harems of their own, around age 5. 

    Grevy’s Zebra, on the other hand, are nearly twice as large as Plains Zebra.  They are not nearly as widespread, inhabiting primarily regions of Northern Kenya.  They can be identified by their smaller, narrower stripes that come together in a bulls-eye pattern at the rear.  Grevy’s Zebra are more adapted to drier climates than Plains Zebra.  They are able to browse when grass is scarce and will dig water holes when needed.

    Grevy’s Zebra are territorial.  Social groups consist of groups of mares with young offspring, bachelor herds, and solitary adult males defending distinct territories.   Breeding takes place within these territories.  The stallions advertise their territories by braying and mark boundaries with urine and feces.

    When predators are present Grevy’s Zebra run while Plains Zebra exhibit group defense.  The females bunch together protecting mothers and babies in the center of the group while the stallion attempts to fight off the predator.  Despite their different behavioral patterns all zebra participate in social grooming and special greeting rituals.   They are complex social animals.

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