Interesting Facts on Zebras

Zebras are definitely one of the many beautiful creatures inhabiting Africa. Zebras are several species of African equids (horse family) united by their distinctive black-and-white striped coats. They are social animals that live in small harems to large herds. Everyone would agree on the fact that no animal has a more distinctive coat than the Zebra. Every year 31st January is celebrated as International Zebra Day, we take this opportunity to share some interesting facts about these striped wonders!

Grevy’s Zebras with the distinctive white belly.

  • There are three species of Zebra in the wild, and they are only found in Africa. They include: Burchell’s Zebra, also known as the Common or Plains Zebra; Grevy’s Zebra, named for Jules Grevy, a 19th century French president who received one from Abyssinia as a gift; and the Equus or Mountain Zebra. All three belong to the genus Equus, which includes horses and donkeys.
  • The most common species is the Plains Zebra, which roams grasslands and woodland of Eastern and Southern Africa. The Grevy’s Zebra can be found in dry, semi-desert areas of Kenya and Ethiopia, and the Mountain Zebra lives in mountainous and hilly habitats in Namibia, Angola and South Africa.
  • Each species of Zebra has different types of stripes, varying in width and pattern distribution. Within each species, no two zebras have the same stripes; they are as unique as fingerprints.
  • Closely related to horses, zebras have thick bodies, thin legs, a tufted tail, and a long head and neck sporting a short mane. And their most famous feature? Their brilliant black-and-white striped coat, of course!

Plains Zebra A lone Plains Zebra on the typical Mara Scape.

  • Why do Zebras have stripes? A zebra’s distinctive stripes were once thought to offer protection, providing camouflage against grasses and making individual animals difficult to single out in a herd when viewed by predators. Another team of scientists hypothesized that the stripes may fend off flies and other biting insects. Zebra’s stripes cause the flies to become disoriented so they end up bumping into a zebra instead of successfully landing. They also noticed that zebras flick away flies more frequently and faster than horses. Another theory suggests, a zebra’s stripy coat helps disperse more than 70 percent of incoming heat, preventing the animal from overheating in the African sun. This is because air moves at different speeds over light-absorbing black stripes and light-reflecting white stripes, so the zebra creates its own cooling air currents.
  • Are zebras white with black stripes? No, in fact zebras are black with white stripes! Some zebras don’t have stripes on their bellies, in which case the fur is white, so it was thought that zebras were white with black stripes. But recent research looking at embryological evidence has shown that a zebra’s underlying colour is actually black, and it’s the white that’s added on top.
  • When faced by predators, zebras will form a semi-circle and bit, nip or attack the predators if they come to close to them. They will also encircle an injured family member to protect it from further attack if the need arises. Zebras run in a zig-zag pattern when being chased by a predator to make it more difficult for the predator to run after them.
  • A dazzle of zebras is the most common collective noun, named for the motion dazzle effect created by a group of running zebras. A group of zebras can also be called a herd of zebras or a zeal of zebras, but those aren’t quite as much fun. Zebras are social animals and live in small family groups that combine into large herds. Even when grouped in a massive swath of other zebras, they remain close to their families. Zebras form hierarchies with a Stallion (male) in the lead followed by his Harem (group of females) behind him. When traveling with his harem, the stallion will lead them with his head low and his ears laid back.

Zebra Close-up Zebra stripes are as unique as fingerprints.

  • As elegant and peaceful as they are, don’t be fooled – zebras can be aggressive animals, too! Stallions fight for females with piercing bites and powerful kicks that are strong enough to cause serious damage – and sometimes even kill!
  • Female zebras carry their young for a gestation period of 12 to 14 months. Baby zebras are called foals. When they are born, foals weigh around 55 to 88 pounds and are able to stand up and walk in no time. The young zebra gets its nutrition from its mother’s milk and will continue to nurse throughout its first year. Zebras become fully mature at 3 to 6 years old and will have a lifespan of around 25 years.
  • These cool creatures are herbivores and spend most of their day eating grass, and sometimes leaves, shrubs twigs and bark, too. Their teeth are well adapted for grazing, with sharp incisors at the front of their mouth to bite the grass, and large molars at the back for crushing and grinding. Zebras are constantly on the move for fresh grass to eat and water to drink. Super stealthy creatures, they’ll travel thousands of kilometres in search of green pastures where they can fill their bellies and quench their thirst!
  • One of the most extraordinary phenomena in the natural world is the annual 1,800-mile migration of millions of zebra, blue wildebeest and other antelope between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara in a constant search of food and water.

Zebra Scape Plains Zebras against the Ngorongoro Landscape.

Two out of the three zebra species aren’t doing so well. Grevy’s Zebras are worse affected: habitat loss, hunting, competition for food and water with domestic grazing animals, and disease have all taken their toll. Mountain Zebras face similar threats, and are listed as Vulnerable, which is one step better than Endangered. There are about 9000 left. Plains Zebras, on the other hand, are in a pretty fine shape but populations are still on the decline due to habitat loss and hunting! This International Zebra Day, let’s spread awareness about these incredible creatures with these fun facts! Hope the species survives for eternity!

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