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Yipes, Stripes! The horselike animal of Africa

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Zebras are among the most recognizable of all undomesticated animals. Adults and children alike delight at the zebra's exotic resemblance to the horse and also most readily to his designer stripes.

The zebra is related to the horse and donkey and can interbreed to produce offspring such as the zorse, zony, zebrule, donkra, and zeedonk. The offspring are usually infertile and not nearly so handsome and healthy as the original zebra. It is interesting to note that the differing equine species rarely if ever breed with each other in the wild. In fact, even the differing zebra species do not interbreed.

Zebras can walk, trot, cantor, and gallop just as horses can, but they are not as fast having a maximum speed at about 35-40 mph. If chased by a predator, a zebra knows to zig-zag from side to side, and his stamina helps him outpace predators. He travels as part of a family within a large herd, and the swirls of all the zebra stripes together can confuse and make it difficult for the predator to distinguish and select a suitable target. If cornered, the zebra has quite a kick that can kill if certainly aimed. His main attackers are the lions and hyenas.

The zebras constantly watch out for each other. If one of them is attacked, its family will protect and try to intimidate by gathering in numbers around the wounded zebra. The male will aggressively try to ward off any enemies.

Zebras are gifted with excellent hearing and eyesight, can see at night, and have a wide field of view. They also have an acute sense of smell and taste. The alternating color pattern of his striped suit dissipates up to 70 percent of the extreme heat that would otherwise bring him down.

There are three species of zebra:

  1. •Plain's zebra (Equus quagga)
  2. •Mountain zebra (Equus zebra)
  3. •Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi)

The plains zebra is the most common and can be found on savannas across much of southern and eastern Africa. Their family consists of a male, several females, and their young. There are six subspecies of the plains zebra, one of them now extinct.

Mountain zebras occur in the rocky hill country of southwestern Africa with one mountain subspecies (Cape) in western South Africa and the other subspecies (Hartmann’s) in Namibia and Angola. They have a sleek coat with a white belly and narrower stripes than the plains Zebra. Their species to date is classified as vulnerable.

Grévy's zebra is the rarest and largest type and, because of its head shape and thick neck, looks the most like a mule. It naturally inhabits the semi-arid grasslands widely across the Horn of Africa, but is now mostly restricted to parts of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. This species does not travel in herds.

Grévy's is listed as an endangered zebra species largely because of habitat loss and availability of forage. Ranchers, farmers, livestock competition for water have reduced the zebra population as have hunters who value their meat and skin. Dwindling water sources have become increasingly crowded with higher chances for disease transmission.

Zebras feed during the day and mostly on a variety of grasses, but also will eat twigs, roots, buds, leaves, bark, shrubs, fruit, and herbs. Plains zebras are always in search for fresh grass and water, often migrating long distances in huge herds with other grazers such as the wildebeest.

Cape mountain zebras tend to prefer their own company and keep apart from other animals. Hartmann’s zebras have an uncanny ability to find water in valleys that are apparently dry.

On average, a zebra in the wild lives 25 years.

African Wildlife Foundation, click here.

January 31 is National Zebra Day.

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