Today we celebrate a favourite safari animal that inhabit various regions of Africa, the zebra. They are well known for their distinctive black and white striped coats and a favorite of many while on safari. Here we will answer some of the commonly asked questions about zebras.
Why do zebra have stripes?
For many years, there were numerous theories as to why zebra had the white and black strip patterns on their hide. Some suggested it was for temperature control, others suggesting that it was for camouflage. Although the stripes do help when a herd is being chased by a predator as it can cause confusion and make it difficult to single out an individual animal, this is not the case.
New studies have shown that the main reason for the stripes is actually to combat parasites, mainly flies. The stripes seem to confuse the pest and they rather move to other animals. This was proven when the guys doing the studies, used cows. They painted stripes onto cattle and found that up to 80% less flies landed on the cows that had stripes than the animals that had a single colored hide.
How many species of zebra are there and where are they found?
There are three primary species of zebras. Each boasts its own unique characteristics and geographical distribution: the Plains Zebra, the Grevy’s Zebra, and the Mountain Zebra.
Plains Zebra (Equus quagga)
The Plains Zebra is the most widespread and numerous of all zebra species. They are found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, woodlands, and even mountainous regions. This species is further divided into six subspecies, each with slight variations in their stripe patterns and distribution:
Burchell’s Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii), is one of the most common and widely distributed zebras, ranging from South Africa to Ethiopia. Grant’s Zebra (Equus quagga boehmi), this subspecies is found in East Africa, including countries like Kenya and Tanzania. Chapman’s Zebra (Equus quagga chapmani), this subspecies is primarily found in southern Africa, including Namibia and Angola.Selous’ Zebra (Equus quagga selousi), is located in southwestern Africa, including parts of Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Crawshay’s Zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi), this subspecies is found in eastern Africa, including Zambia and Mozambique. Quagga (Equus quagga quagga), the Quagga is an extinct subspecies of Plains Zebra, and its name is derived from the Khoikhoi language. It was primarily found in South Africa but became extinct in the late 19th century.
The Plains Zebra is known for its social nature, living in groups called “harems” consisting of a dominant male, several females, and their offspring. They are known for their annual migrations, covering large distances in search of water and fresh grazing lands. These migrations play a crucial role in maintaining the health and sustainability of the ecosystems they inhabit.
Grevy’s Zebra (Equus greyvi)
Grevy’s Zebra is the largest and most endangered of the three zebra species. Named after the former French president Jules Grevy, this species is native to the semi-arid regions of East Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Unlike Plains Zebras, Grevy’s Zebras have more narrow and closely spaced stripes, along with larger ears.
Grevy’s Zebras are primarily solitary animals, with adult males holding territories that overlap with those of several females. Their behavior and social structure are adapted to the arid environments they inhabit. They are more water-dependent than other zebras, and their movements are often dictated by the availability of water sources.
Grevy’s Zebras do not undergo long-distance migrations like Plains Zebras, but they exhibit seasonal movements in search of food and water. Unfortunately, habitat loss and competition with domestic livestock have contributed to the decline of Grevy’s Zebra populations, making conservation efforts crucial for their survival.
Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra)
The Mountain Zebra is the smallest of the three zebra species and is adapted to living in more rugged and mountainous terrain. There are two subspecies of Mountain Zebra:
Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra), found in South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, this subspecies has experienced population recovery thanks to conservation efforts. Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae),found in Namibia and Angola, this subspecies is also subject to conservation measures due to its declining numbers.
Mountain Zebras have a distinctive stripe pattern, with a dewlap (a fold of skin) under their neck. Their stripes also do not reach right underneath the belly and so the belly is white. They are adapted to rocky and hilly areas, where their agility helps them navigate challenging terrain.Similar to Plains Zebras, Mountain Zebras exhibit seasonal movements in search of water and food. However, their ranges are more restricted due to the specific nature of their preferred habitats.
Why were zebra never domesticated?
As horses and donkeys were domesticated, people are often confused as to why the prettier zebra was not domesticated. It is true that over time there have been some individuals that have been raised in captivity and have been used domestically. Generally though, even these animals become difficult once they reach maturity.
Zebra are aggressive animals, kicking and biting viciously. Stallions are equipped with canines in their bottom jaws, used for fighting and protecting their harems from predators. A well placed kick is more than enough to shatter a jaw or a good bite can remove an ear or tail. We often see zebra’s without ears or tails and this is what has happened, it is not a lucky escape from a predator. Zebra stallions fight for their harems and if a new stallion takes over, he will practice infanticide, destroying any youngsters that do not belong to him.
Along with their aggression, zebra have weak backs compared to their cousins. If you look at their side profile, you can immediately notice that their backs are not as concave as a horses, being far flutter. This does not allow them to take a heavy load. With their weak backs and aggression, it just hasn’t been worth putting in the effort to domesticate them.
Do zebra migrate and what are their normal movement patterns?
While Plains Zebras are renowned for their impressive migrations, the timing and routes can vary among the different subspecies. These migrations are often triggered by the changing seasons, availability of water, and the need for fresh grazing lands. The movement of large herds of zebras has a profound impact on the ecosystems they traverse, influencing vegetation, soil composition, and even the behavior of other wildlife species.
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in East Africa is home to one of the most famous zebra migrations, often mentioned alongside the wildebeest migration. In this region, zebras, wildebeests, and other herbivores undertake an annual migration in search of water and lush grasslands. This movement not only ensures the survival of these animals but also supports the intricate balance of the ecosystem. We have numerous packages to explore this migration and here is an example of one in migration season.
The most famous zebra migration occurs in the Makgadikgadi Pans region, where thousands of zebras move in search of fresh grazing grounds and water sources. The Makgadikgadi Pans are a series of salt flats that transform into lush grasslands during the wet season, attracting large herds of herbivores, including zebras.
The migration is closely tied to the seasonal rains and the availability of food and water. Zebras in this region are known to travel long distances, and their migration is one of the most significant wildlife events in the area. We have an amazing package to experience this, so have a look here .
Plains Zebras exhibit a nomadic lifestyle during their migrations, moving in large groups that can include thousands of individuals. These herds often attract predators, creating dynamic interactions between zebras, lions, and other carnivores.
The migrations of Plains Zebras also play a crucial role in the preservation of their species. The movement between different areas helps prevent overgrazing, allowing vegetation to recover and ensuring the sustainability of the ecosystem.
Grevy’s Zebras, although not known for long-distance migrations like Plains Zebras, exhibit seasonal movements within their territories. Their movements are more localized, driven by the availability of water and food resources. Conservation efforts for Grevy’s Zebras often involve the protection of these critical habitats and the establishment of corridors to connect fragmented areas.
Mountain Zebras, due to their preference for rocky and mountainous terrain, have more localized movements within their habitats. Their migration patterns are influenced by the availability of water sources in their specific environments.
Zebras are a well loved animal and many people believe that they can only be found in a single area and that there is only a single species. Here we have proven that there are numerous species and that they can be found in different parts of Africa also corresponding to different habitat as well. We have also put to bed some old theories and myths about their stripes and why they were not domesticated many years ago.