One of the animals most associated with Africa, the zebra is hard to forget with its bold black-and-white stripes. If you go on safari in any wildlife reserve that’s home to predators on the mainland, you’ll more than likely see dozens if not hundreds of these hoofed, horse-like creatures. So it’s good to know their back story. Here are some things you didn’t know about zebras including why zebras should never be domesticated, that you can use as trivia on your next safari.
There are a number of theories surrounding why a zebra is striped, but the most prominent has been that they offer camouflage protection in the grass and make it more difficult for predators to identify individual zebras in a herd. There is a newer theory, however, that the stripes may have evolved, strangely, as a way to deter blood-sucking insects.
A zebra’s stripes are like fingerprints – each is completely individual. And not only do the stripes vary from zebra to zebra, but within the three species of zebra the look of the stripes is varied in terms of pattern and width. In fact, the farther south in Africa a zebra lives, the farther apart its stripes are.
Zebra in the wild are indigenous to Africa. Part of the equus family which also includes horses and donkeys, zebras come in three species: the Burchell’s zebra, which is also called the common or plains zebra; the Grevy’s zebra, named for the 19th century French president Jules Grevy, who once received a zebra as a gift; and the equus, or mountain, zebra, a threatened species native to parts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
The Grevy’s zebra is the largest of the three species. They are larger than wild horses and can weigh up to 850 pounds. On the smaller end of the scale is the mountain zebra, which can weigh as little as 400 pounds.
Humans have been fascinated with cross-breeding zebras with other equine species. Today you will find “zorses” (zebra crossed with a horse), zonkeys (zebra crossed with a donkey — pictured above) and zebrules (zebra crossed with a mule) living in captivity across the planet.
Unlike horses, zebras run with a zigzagging gait that makes it hard for riders to balance, but beyond that zebras are known to be very stubborn and aggressive, making it really difficult to domesticate the species, although humans have tried for centuries now.
It is not impossible to domesticate zebras as demonstrated by this team pulling a cart through central London. These zebras were successfully trained by eccentric zoologist Lionel Walter Rothschild at the end of the 19th century, but after doing so, he concluded they it would not be easy to domesticate them on a large scale.
When it comes to trophy hunting, zebra are big business for African outfitters. In South Africa, where zebra can be hunted year round, in addition to the daily fee charged by hunting camps, the trophy fee for a Burchell’s zebra is $1700 and for a less common mountain zebra, it’s $2700.
Zebra hides are popular on the global market with many companies shipping tanned zebra-skin rugs or wall hangings around the world. These usually cost in the neighborhood of $1200 per skin.
A baby zebra can be up and walking within 20 minutes of being born. By comparison it takes a horse foal about 90 minutes to be up and walking.
Zebra migrate across vast areas in search of water, and during their migration, it is up to the oldest male in the family herd to make sure the group doesn’t stray too far from water.
Zebra are social animals that prefer to move in herds and like each others company. They even groom each other. There diet consists mostly of grass.