Zebras are famously stripy members of the horse family. These distinctive creatures are native to Africa, and actually consist of three different species. The plains zebra is the most common, the largest is the Grevy’s zebra, and the last species is the mountain zebra. Read on to learn about the zebra.
Description of the Zebra
Zebras have black fur with white stripes and predominantly white bellies. Their feet are capped with a singular, hard hoof, which packs a punch when kicked at predators. They have large, rounded ears with lots of hair to keep dust out of them. Their tail has long, black hair that begins approximately midway down the tail, while the top is striped.
Interesting Facts About the Zebra
Zebras are beautiful, hardy creatures that are built for survival in harsh environments. These captivating creatures can take on a lion, but are being threatened by human activity. Learn why zebras are wonderfully unique animals that deserve protection below.
- Unlikely Camouflage – Though it seems counterintuitive, this animal’s striking patterns are actually a form of camouflage. Scientists believe that their stripes have two deterring characteristics. First, the vertical stripes help them blend in with tall grass surrounding them. Second, moving together creates a dizzying pattern of moving stripes, making it difficult for predators to choose a target.
- Stupendous Stripes – Stripes aren’t just generic camouflage either, each zebra is uniquely marked. No two zebras are alike, and just like human fingerprints, all zebras have a different stripe pattern. Some scientists even believe that zebras may be able to identify one another by stripe pattern.
- Horse v. Horsefly – Another great plus side to all those drastic stripes? Built in insect repellant! That’s right, zebra stripes can help repel insects. Researchers discovered that zebra stripe patterns cause blood-sucking horse flies to become disoriented, effectively repelling the flies.
- Sturdy Slumber – Zebras and most members of the Equidae (or horse) family sleep standing up. Members of the horse family can actually be injured by lying down for long periods, because their own body weight can damage their internal organs.
Habitat of the Zebra
Most of these interesting animals prefer living in savanna woodlands and grasslands without trees. They cannot be found in deserts, wetlands, or rainforests. The mountain variety lives in rocky mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the availability of habitat for all zebras is shrinking, resulting in population decline.
Distribution of the Zebra
These animals live exclusively in Africa. Different species and subspecies have different ranges across Africa, and all species have a restricted range from their historic habitat. Plains zebras are spread across southeastern Africa, from southern Sudan to South Africa. Mountain zebras are restricted to small areas of southwest Africa. finally, Grevy’s zebras live in the grasslands of Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
Diet of the Zebra
Zebras are exclusively herbivorous, meaning that they only eat plants. Their diet is almost entirely made up of grasses, but they also eat leaves, bark, shrubs, and more. They spend most of their time grazing on grasses, and then regurgitating and re-chewing those grasses, called “cud.”
Zebra and Human Interaction
Humans have consistently utilized these animals for their meat, fur, and as trophies. They are also seen as competition for livestock grazing, and will be culled (killed) for this as well. Many populations and subpopulations have been heavily depleted. The Grevy’s zebra population is considered endangered due to hunting, and population destruction for farming.
Attempts at domesticating these animals have been made, but are largely unsuccessful. In comparison to horses, zebras are very flighty. They are unpredictable, and can be quite aggressive, and will panic in stressful conditions.
Does the Zebra Make a Good Pet
Zebras do not make good pets for the average person. They require much more handling and desensitization than the average horse, and can be more temperamental. Only the most experienced handler should care for zebras.
In human care, zebras must be provided with lots of space for exercise, though fencing should be sturdy and secure to prevent escapes. They should also have access to fresh grass for easy grazing. They should also be supplemented with hay, and given fresh vegetables as treats. They must be kept in herds, because they are social creatures.
Behavior of the Zebra
Zebras are highly social creatures and different species have different social structures. In some species, one stallion guards a harem of females, while other species remain in groups, but do not form strong social bonds. They can frequently change herd structure, and will change companions every few months.
Reproduction of the Zebra
Female zebras can have one calf per year. Their gestation period is around 360 – 395 days long, depending on the species. The mother will protect her calf, and it can stand, walk, and run shortly after birth. This is especially important, as calves are vulnerable to predators. Calves will nurse from their mother for up to one year before being weaned.