Zebras are horses with stripes. Unlike horses, they have never been domesticated, and their skittish temperament and straight-back structure make them difficult to ride. They can walk, trot, canter and gallop like a horse, but slightly slower. A big question that has always tantalised scientists is: Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Genetic evidence and skin colour now indicate that zebras are black with white stripes.
Each set of stripes is as individual as a fingerprint. Stripes on the front of all zebras form a triangular pattern, but no two zebras anywhere are exactly alike. Scientists think that zebras may even be able to identify each other by their stripes. The stripes are amazing but they are there for more than good looks. A herd of zebras is confusing to sort out, especially when it is moving, and at dawn and dusk, prime feeding times for predators. The stripes help to keep the zebras from being eaten.
There are three types of zebras and two of them are endangered. The most common zebra is called the Burchell's zebra. It has wide stripes and you can sometimes see herds of thousands of them on the African plains. The Grevy's zebra, the largest of the zebras with narrow stripes, lives in northern Kenya. The Equus or Mountain zebra lives in southern and southwestern Africa. Both have been heavily poached for their meat and skins and are endangered by hunting and loss of habitat. There may be as few as 6,000 Grevy's zebras left in the wild.
Baby zebras are called foals. They can stand up 20 minutes after they are born and run when they are one hour old. The mother keeps all the other zebras in the herd, even her family unit, away from the newborn for two or three days until the foal can recognise her by sight, vocal sound and smell. When zebras travel, the dominant mare in a group leads with her foal behind her, and then the rest of the females follow in single file with their foals. The stallion does not travel with the family group.
Did You Know?
Zebras can run up to 35 miles an hour and they see in the dark as well as owls. In the wild, Burchell's zebras live to be about 25 years old, and in captivity they may live to be 40. Grevy's zebras live about 20 years in captivity. Zebras' teeth grow for their entire lives because the constant grinding of their diet of grasses, bark and leaves wears tooth enamel down. Lions and hyenas are their main predators.