KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Perissodactyla (Odd-toed Ungulates)
FAMILY: Equidae (Horse family)
SUB-FAMILY: Equinae (Horse family)
GENUS: Equus (Horses, donkeys and zebras)
SPECIES: Equus quagga (Plains Zebra)
The Plains zebra is found throughout southeastern Africa, with the highest population densities in the Serengeti-Mara plains of Kenya and Tanzania. Their range reaches as far north as southern Ethiopia and Sudan, as far west as Namibia, and as far south as the northern regions of South Africa. There are also populations in Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi.
The zebra resembles a horse with black and white stripes. Plains zebras typically have broad vertical stripes on their body, which become gradually horizontal on the hindquarters. The end of the muzzle is black as well as the eye area. Coat patterns, body size and the presence or absence of a mane all vary according to subspecies. Six subspecies of plains zebra are currently recognized.
Zebras prefer open grasslands, open woodlands, and open scrub environments. They inhabit savannas, taller grasslands, heavier woodland areas, and even hilly country and mountainous regions.
Zebras are herbivores (plant-eaters) and they mainly eat grass. They also occasionally eat herbs, leaves and twigs.
Plains zebras are social animals and live in permanent family groups (called harems) composed of one male stallion, 1 to 6 females, and their young. If the dominant male is killed, the harem will stay together, and will wait for another male to take over the harem. Large herds of plains zebra sometimes form, usually when grazing, sleeping or moving between areas, which are composed of bachelor groups as well as harems. Plains zebra are non-territorial and different herds will occupy overlapping territories.
Plains zebras are polygynous (males have more than one female as a mate at one time). After a female zebra’s first estrous, she will be courted by males in the area. Male-male competition is not significant, once males obtain a female, there seems to be a “gentleman’s agreement” between the stallions that this female has been taken and cannot be lured away.
After a gestation period of about 12-13 months, a single offpring (called a foal) is born. Foals can stand almost immediately and will start eating grass about a week after birth. They will be weaned at about 7-11 months old and will become independent from 1-3 years old. Sexual maturity is reached at about 16-22 months. They can live up to about 40 years old.
Despite their size, zebras have many predators and are preyed on by lions, spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and Nile crocodiles.
Habitat loss, hunting, and competition with livestock for grass and water are the main threats to the plains zebra.
Did you know?
- At least six different calls have been documented for the plains zebra
- Each zebra’s stripes are unique and can be used to identify individuals, much like fingerprints
- The zebra is revered in some African cultures as a symbol of beauty
- The plains zebra is often the first species to colonise unexploited areas of grassland
- Like horses, zebras sleep standing up, and usually only when in the safety of a group