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Fun Facts About Zebras

Zebra in the grasslands of the Serengeti at dawn in Tanzania, East Africa.
Zebra in the grasslands of the Serengeti at dawn in Tanzania, East Africa.
Credit: Mogens Trolle | Shutterstock

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla

Family: Equidae

Genus: Equus

Species: Equus quagga (Plains zebra), Equus zebra (Mountain zebra), Equus grevyi (Grevy's zebra)

Subspecies: E. quagga burchellii(Burchell's Zebra), E. quagga boehmi, (Grant's Zebra), E. quagga borensis (Selous' Zebra), E. quagga chapmani (Chapman's Zebra), E. quagga crawshayi (Crawshay's Zebra); E. zebra zebra (Cape Mountain Zebra), E. zebra hartmannae (Hartmann's Mountain Zebra)

 

Basic zebra facts:

Zebras are one of a handful of single-toed hoofed animal species, a category that also includes donkeys, horses and asses. The single hoof is probably an adaptation that helps them run fast on hard ground. Zebras are the most striking-looking of the animals in this family.

So, why the stripes? When zebras are grouped together, their stripes make it hard for a predator to pick out one zebra to chase. Different zebra species have different types of stripes, from narrow to wide. In fact, the further south on the African plains you travel, the farther apart the stripes on the zebras get.

The stripes may also help deter bloodsucking insects, research has suggested.

The height of an adult plains zebra is 44-58 inches (112 to 147centimeters) at the shoulder.

Their weight varies greatly, from 385-847 pounds (175 to 384 kilograms) depending on the species. Males are about 10 percent larger than females.

The Grevy's zebra is the largest wild member of the horse family.

In the wild, zebras live about 20-30 years; in zoos they can live up to 40 years.

 

Zebras graze primarily on tough grasses, but they also browse on leaves, which may constitute up to 30 percent of their diet.

Zebras are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds.

They are generally slower than horses with a top speed of around 35 mph (56 kph), but their great stamina helps them outpace predators. When chased, a zebra will zigzag from side to side, making it more difficult for the predator to catch them. When cornered, a zebra will rear up and kick or bite its attacker.

Where food is mostly plentiful year-round, such as the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, they lead a sedentary life. In seasonally dry areas like the Serengeti of Tanzania, small families of plains zebra gather to form large herds that migrate in search of food. Staying together as a family group within large herds, they migrate up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) per year during their circular trek to and from the Serengeti.

Zebra are extremely dependent on water and never wander far from waterholes, where they usually drink at least once a day. It is the responsibility of an adult mare (often the oldest), to guide the family as they move from area to area and ensure that they never wander too far from water.

 

Where zebras live:

Zebras are only found in the wild in one continent: Africa.

Plains zebras, which live in grassland, live all around Africa. Mountain zebras, live (as the name suggests) in mountainous regions in dry southern African countries like Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Grevy's zebras live in shrubland and grassland in Northern African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. Zebras commonly mix herds with antelope, adding extra protection against predators.

 

Conservation status: Least Concern to Endangered

Both the Grevy's zebra and the mountain zebra are listed as endangered.

While plains zebra populations remain plentiful and is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, though their numbers diminished greatly in the last century.

This decline has happened for several reasons: Humans hunt zebras for sport and their skins, and zebras have also lost much suitable and expansive enough habitat, due to the rapid expansion of human populations. As with so many large animals, both prey and predator, humans pose the greatest risk to zebra's continued existence in the wild.

Overgrazing by livestock is leading to significant environmental degradation, as zebras compete with the ever-increasing livestock population and agricultural crops for water.

 

Odd facts:

While several attempts have been made over the last two centuries, zebras have never been successfully domesticated.

In South Africa there is a project to bring back the Quagga, an extinct subspecies of the Plains Zebra (http://www.quaggaproject.org/).

In ancient Rome, Grevy's zebras were called "hippotigris" and trained to pull carts for the circus.

Zebras in a herd might all look alike, but their stripe patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints are in humans. Scientists can identify individual zebras by comparing patterns, stripe widths, color and scars.

Zebras have black skin underneath their hair, which makes some people say that they have white stripes, but it's an open question!

 

Other resources:

African Wildlife Foundation - Zebra

San Diego Zoo - Zebra

Woodland Park Zoo - Zebra

Smithsonian National Zoo – Grevy's Zebra

IUCN Red List – Mountain Zebra

IUCN Red List – Plains Zebra

IUCN Red List - Grevy's Zebra

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