The zebra (subgenuses Hippotigris and Dolichohippus) is known to all humans around the planet are one of the most iconic animals with their black and white stripes. A close relative of horses and donkeys, zebras are one of the most exceptional animals in the world. Zebras stripes resemble that of the human DNA, each and every zebra’s stripe patterns are unique to each animal. Natives of Africa, these single-hoofed animals are a large species of equine.
Zebras are found across a wide range in East and Southern Africa. They prefer live in semi-desert treeless grasslands, mountainous regions, and savanna woodlands. You will not see too many zebras in deserts, rainforests, and wetlands. However, the mountain zebra, a subspecies of the zebra can be found in the mountain grasslands of South-West Africa.
Human expansion has caused a loss of habitat for the zebras across Africa. Not only is the growing human population a cause of deforestation but also competition for water with livestock reducing the zebra’s life source.
For a long time, plains zebras were categorized by their physical and appearance differences in to 6 separate subspecies. A recent study conducted by a team of researchers found that the six subspecies count conducted by the shape of plains zebra’s head and stripe pattern was incorrect. This team of scientist put the total number of subspecies of plains zebras to 9. The research also revealed that the birthplace of zebras was in fact the wetlands of Southern Africa.
The two other subspecies of zebras are the Grevy’s Zebra and the Mountain Zebra. These zebras live in different parts of the continent and have adapted to their less forgiving habitat.
Zebras are herbivorous and feed mostly on a variety of grasses. Some other sources of nutrition are shrubs, herbs, leaves, barks, and twigs. The lack of nutrition in grass, zebras can be seen grazing 60 – 80% of the day. Most zebras are also often seen drinking at water holes, while the mountainous Grevy’s Zebra and Mountain Zebra inhabit more arid and drier regions and can go days at time without drinking.
In the dry season zebras can travel up to 1,800 miles in search of food and water holes that have not gone dry. The Grevy’s Zebra are also known to dig into the ground of dried up river beds to get to the water underground.
Zebras are heavy bodied animals are designed for speed. The ability to run at up to 40 kilometers per hour comes from their long and slender legs and narrow hooves. Similar to horses, zebras only have a single toe on each foot.
The zebras’ most recognizable feature the black and white stripes are special to each individual and allows them to identify each other in herds. The black stripes rest on top of a white coat of hair but there is a layer of black skin underneath the white coat. The underbelly and inside of the legs remain stripe free. The pattern of stripes also varies between species.
The long necks and heads let them easily reach the grass below for grazing. The body size along with stripe design changes with species. The Grevy’s Zebra is the biggest of the zebra species and also is easily recognizable by its large, rounded ears.
Zebra’s Behavior & Life Cycle
Zebras are extremely social animals that travel in herds for many reasons. The Grevy’s Zebra forms herds that patrol more freely, while the Common Zebra and the Mountain Zebra patrol their ranges in long-term herds that are divided into smaller families. Highly affectionate zebras are seen grooming each other and form strong social bonds.
The males fight each other for the right to breed with the mares. Gestation period for a zebra is between 10 months to a year. The females give birth to a single foal at a time. The foals are weaned at 11 months and at around three years, the male zebras leave their mothers while females stick around.
On average a Common Zebra in the wild lives about 20 to 30 years. The same zebras in captivity however free of predators, can live to be 40 years old. The Grevy’s Zebra, with its bigger size usually lives to only be about 20 years or younger.