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Zebra Facts | Southern Africa Wildlife Guide

The Swahili word for “zebra” is “pundamilia,” which translates literally to “striped donkey.” The function of a zebra’s stripes is still up for debate, though it is widely thought that the stripes act as a way of confusing predators, either by camouflaging or making the zebra’s form ambiguous from a distance.

HABITAT & FEEDING HABITS

There are several species of zebra in Africa, all of which inhabit open and wooded grasslands. These common animals are single-stomached (non-ruminants), which allows them to consume rough, dry grasses. These grasses, often passed over by other grazers, allow the zebra to endure during times when their counterparts struggle for survival. However, like the elephant, they need to drink water on a daily basis, and hence, they are rarely far from a water source.

BREEDING

Breeding rituals are connected to the rains. Male zebras sexually mature at age 1 or 2, but do not reach social maturity—the capacity to seize or guard a female herd or territory—until 6 years old. Courtship and breeding last two days, with mating repeated every one to two hours. Once a female becomes pregnant, the gestation period lasts 13 months.

As young as 1 month old, foals become strikingly independent and may be left alone while mares travel a few miles for water or to graze. Their stripes appear reddish-brown rather than black up until about 6 months old.

BEHAVIOR

Zebras are mostly active by day, with a peak of activity at dawn and dusk; they seek out shade at midday and rest intermittently during the night. Zebras neigh in a similar fashion to horses, as well as a strange characteristic whinny.

Zebras form social units of a group of mares and their offspring, guarded by a dominant stallion. The relationship between mare and foal is the strongest social bond. While young females stay with the family group, males will separate from the herd and join bachelor groups. Burchell’s zebra live in herds of permanent members. In contrast, Grevy’s zebra groupings fluctuate, and associations within the group last only a few months. During the breeding season, males will become highly territorial, guarding boundaries of large swaths of land to keep herds within them. After the season’s passing, they will once again mix with other males.
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