No animal has a fur as distinctive as that of the zebra. The stripes of each specimen are as unique as fingerprints (there are no two equals), although each of the three existing species has its own general pattern.
And why do zebras have stripes?
Scientists are not sure, but many theories focus on their usefulness as a certain form of camouflage. Their patterns can pose a difficulty for predators when distinguishing an individual in a herd to the race and distorting the distance at sunrise and dusk. Or they can evade insects that only recognize large areas of skin of the same color, or act as some kind of natural sunscreen. Because of its niche character, stripes can also help zebras recognize each other.
Zebras are social animals that live in herds. They pace in a group, usually grass, and even groom each other.
The most abundant species is the plain zebra (or Burchell). They live in small family groups formed by a male (stud), several females and their offspring. These units can be combined with others to form spectacular herds of thousands of individuals, but family members are held together in the bosom of the herd.
Zebras must watch at all times to avoid hyenas and lions. In a herd there are many eyes to detect the danger. If an animal is attacked, its family will go in its defense, surrounding the wounded zebra and trying to repel the predators.
Zebras are exclusively herbivorous mammals that eat mostly in the morning and in the afternoon, resetting at noon. They are animals that feed on coarse grass, leaves and sprouts. They also eat bark and twigs. Its digestive system, well adapted, allows them to subsist on a diet of nutritive quality lower than that needed by other herbivores, but it is also less efficient, forcing the zebras to spend more than half of the time eating.
Zebras can move about twenty miles in a day in search of food, but at the end of the day they usually return to their point of origin. Even so, the herds of zebras make a much more important annual migration, which coincides with the dry season and which also make many other African mammals and represent a movement of hundreds of thousands of animals at once.
The dry conditions of the ecosystems in which the zebras inhabit make them adapted to the arid periods. Grevy’s zebras are the best adapted to drought conditions. To survive the dry season, where most rivers, ponds and other water sources dry out, this zebra species digs into the riverbed with its hooves to find water.
The mountain Zebra takes advantage of the characteristics of its habitat to survive the dry periods. When the water sources of which it remains are dried, this species simply migrates to a higher altitude, where the lower temperatures cause the water vapor to condense in the form of rain, snow or dew.
The common zebra is the least adapted to drought. Unlike the other two species, it always needs to have water available, forcing it to migrate from one place to the other according to the station in search of water resources.
As in most animal species, females reach sexual maturity before males, and may have their first foal at the age of three. However, males cannot breed until they are five or six years old. The mares can give birth to a foal every twelve months, which is the duration of gestation. They take care of the offspring up to a maximum of one year. Like horses, zebras are able to stand up, walk and suckle shortly after birth. At this point, the Zebra Pony is brown and white instead of black and white. A single colt is almost always born, but on extremely rare occasions twins can be born.
In the case of mountain zebras and common zebras, foals are protected by their mother, as well as by the male and the other mares of the group. Instead, Grevy’s zebra Colts only have their mother as a regular protector, as the groups of this species are usually scattered after a few months. The protection of foals is especially relevant for these animals, as the offspring are an easy prey for predators and half of them do not survive the first year of life despite the efforts of their mother and the male group. Another of the dangers that the Colts are the infanticide and feticidios among the zebras, although only this behavior has been observed in specimens in captivity.
Types of Zebras
COMMON ZEBRA (EQUUS QUAGGA):
The common zebra is the most numerous and most extensive species geographically. It is also the one with the most different subspecies. It measures about 2.5 meters long and 1.5 meters high on the back, with a mass of 385 kg. It has a great importance in the field of tourism in some of the countries in which it lives, as it is one of the most famous African animals. The northern populations have the stripes rather defined than the southern.
MOUNTAIN ZEBRA (EQUUS ZEBRA):
The mountain zebra is a species that lives in small groups and which, unlike the common zebra, is not grouped in herds. It measures about 2.2 meters long and 1-1.4 meters high on the back. Its mass is between 240 and 370 kg. It has two subspecies, one of which, E. Z. Zebra presents sexual dimorphism, as females are larger than males. It lives in arid mountainous areas.
GREVY ZEBRA (EQUUS GREVYI):
he zebra of Grevy is the largest species of all, with a measure between 2.5 and 2.75 meters long and 1,45-1.6 meters high to the back. Weighs between 350 and 440 kg. Other differences of this species with respect to the others are their big ears and the fact that their stripes are narrower. It is also about the species that can withstand longer without drinking water.