Zebras look like little horses. They grow to a metre and a half. Their body is much sturdier than that of a horse, and they have a short, standing mane rather than a long one. The relationship between horses and zebras can also be seen in the fact that some wild horses have zebra crossings on their legs.
By the way, the typical stripe pattern of zebras makes them hardly visible from a distance: Because of the stripes, they seem to dissolve the outline of their body. This makes them more difficult for predators to detect. But not all stripes are the same. Every animal has its own pattern, which is a bit different from the other animals.
Zebras live in sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan and the mountainous regions of Southwest Africa.
Zebras live mainly in the steppes and savannas, where they find enough grass and herbs.
Breeds and Species
The most famous zebra is the steppe zebra (Equus quagga). They live in large herds in the steppes of Africa. There is also the mountain zebra (Equus zebra). As the name suggests, it lives in the mountains and climbs up steep rocks.
The Grevyzebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest zebra. Its stripes are narrower and stand narrower than those of the other zebra species. Unlike the steppe and mountain zebras, which have no territories, the stallions of the Grevyzebras vigorously defend their territory.
Zebras can live for 20 to 40 years. They usually live in captivity for 20 to 25 years.
Most zebras live in small groups of up to 20 animals. The group consists of one stallion, about six mares and the foals. The stallion defends his group against other zebra stallions. But there are never any serious fights. Mostly the stallions greet and sniff each other and then go their way again.
Young males without families live in their own groups. Since zebras do not have their own territories, several groups often join together in the rainy season. They form large herds of several hundred or even thousand animals. Sometimes zebra herds even mix with antelopes and ostriches and move around in mixed groups. If the leading stallion of a herd is too old or if he dies, the females nevertheless remain together with their young and another male takes the place.
The zebras of a herd alternate as guards. Thus, the life in the group offers a great protection to the animals. Zebras know exactly which animals belong to their family: They recognize themselves by the smell, the voice and also by the drawing of their stripes.
An important sign that a herd belongs together is the mutual care: They brush their neck, back and mane with their teeth. Personal hygiene also includes a regular dust- and mud bath.
Zebras spend most of the day eating. At hot lunchtime they rest close together in the shade. Zebras sleep like horses standing up, only the foals lie down on the ground.
Friends and Enemies
The zebras’ natural enemies are the lions. They like to live near zebra herds and look for weak, old or sick animals. But also leopards and hyenas some hunt zebras. But the zebras are not defenseless: they can be incredibly fast! They don’t have much stamina, but on the run from enemies they even reach a speed of 80 kilometers per hour. And if they can’t run away from a predator, they defend themselves with bites and fierce kicks. Sometimes they can break even the jaw of a lion with a purposeful kick of their hard hooves.
But the best protection against enemies is their eyes: zebras can see far away and predators very well and thus flee in time. Unfortunately, the human is also one of the enemies of the zebras. In the past they were often hunted and almost exterminated in some areas.
After one year of gestation, only one foal is born at a time. It is suckled by its mother for about eight and a half months. Mostly the young zebras are born in the rainy season between November and April. The first days the mother stays alone with the boy a little apart from the others. Only then do they rejoin the herd.
Already after one week the little ones nibble the first blades of grass, but only after about one year they are no longer suckled at all. About two years they stay with the herd, then the young males are driven out by the stallions.
The calls of the zebras cannot be compared at all with those of the horses or donkeys: They make bright, almost wheezing sounds reminiscent of a bark.