No animal has a more distinctive coat than the zebra. Each animal’s stripes are as unique as fingerprints—no two are exactly alike—although each of the three species has its own general pattern.
Why do zebras have stripes at all? Scientists aren’t sure, but many theories center on their utility as some form of camouflage. The patterns may make it difficult for predators to identify a single animal from a running herd and distort distance at dawn and dusk. Or they may dissuade insects that recognize only large areas of single-colored fur or act as a kind of natural sunscreen. Because of their uniqueness, stripes may also help zebras recognize one another.
Zebras are social animals that spend time in herds. They graze together, primarily on grass, and even groom one another.
Plains (Burchell’s) zebras are the most common species. They live in small family groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young. These units may combine with others to form awe-inspiring herds thousands of head strong, but family members will remain close within the herd.
Zebras must be constantly wary of lions and hyenas. A herd has many eyes alert to danger. If an animal is attacked, its family will come to its defense, circling the wounded zebra and attempting to drive off predators.
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Zebras are herbivorous and primarily eat a variety of grasses. They are also known to eat shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves and bark.
Overall, plains zebras number at around 750,000. Historically, there were over 15,000 Grevy’s zebras. However, there are only about 2,500 remaining today. There are 600-700 cape mountain zebras and around 800-1300 Hartmann’s mountain zebras in the wild.
Plains zebra are found on the savannas from Sudan to northern Zimbabwe in eastern Africa. Grevy’s zebras are now mostly restricted to parts of northern Kenya. Mountain zebras occur in southwestern Africa with cape mountain zebras in South Africa and Hartmann’s mountain zebras in Namibia and Angola.
Zebras as very social animals and live in large groups called ‘harems.’ Plains and mountain zebras live in harems that are made up of one stallion and up to six mares and their young, while Grevy’s zebras come together as groups for short periods of time. Sometimes herds come together to form temporary groups of up to 30 members. Zebras sleep standing up, and only when they are in groups that can warn them of danger. If they spot a predator, they will bark or whinny loudly to warn the others in the group
Mating Season: Year round` and based on species. Gestation: 12-13 months. Litter size: 1 foal. Zebra foals are born with brown and white stripes as opposed to black and white stripes. Mares generally keep all other zebras away for 2-3 days until her foal recognizes her by sight, voice and smell.
The zebra’s biggest threats are habitat loss due to ranching and farming and competition for water with livestock. They are also hunted for their skins.