Grevy’s Zebras: A Look Between the Stripes

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Africa is home to a vast array of spectacular wildlife. Many of its animals are considered iconic, such as the lion, elephant, and giraffe. One icon that looks surprisingly familiar is the zebra. A horse with a unique paint job that has never submitted the domestication of man, there is much more to zebras that just the stripes. Even amongst zebras there is one species that stands apart, the Grevy’s zebra.

How many types of zebra are there?

All living equines belong to the genus Equus. This includes horses, both domestic and wild, donkeys, and zebras. While most people could tell you that horses and zebras are different species, what many do not realize is that there are three different species of zebra: the plains zebra (Equus quagga), the mountain zebra (E. zebra), and the Grevy’s zebra (E. grevyi). The Grevy’s zebra is not only the largest of the zebras but is it the largest extant wild equid, standing roughly five feet at the shoulder and weighing between 700 and 1000 pounds. Unlike domestic horses, zebras have erect manes and only the ends of their tails are tufted.

Where do Grevy’s zebra live?

All zebras species are native to Africa, but the Grevy’s has a much more restricted range. They are found only in two countries, Kenya and Ethiopia. Most of the world’s population are in Kenya. At one point, they could be found ind Somalia and Djibouti but have since been driven to extinction in these countries. Grevy’s zebras prefer open plains and bushland habitats where they graze on grasses and legumes.

How are Grevy’s zebras different from other zebras?

Apart from size and subtle anatomical differences, Grevy’s zebras can be distinguished from other zebra species by their social behavior. Being prey animals and lacking defensive weaponry, equids are naturally social as a means of protection. Plains and mountain zebras live in harem-based herds that consist of a dominant stallion, up to a half dozen mares, and their offspring. Grevy’s zebras do not spend as much time in groups. Herds rarely last more than a few months and are made up of either females and their foals or bachelor males. Stallions stake out a territory that they fiercely protect from rivals, only allowing females, and juveniles to pass through unchallenged.

Why do zebras have stripes?

Scientists have long theorized as to the purpose of the zebra’s elaborately striped coat. No other wild equid sports such dramatic patterning. Embryological studies have shown that contrary to popular belief, zebras are black animals that develop white striping. While at first glance it would seem that such a color scheme would prevent a zebra from camouflaging, the opposite is actually truly. Lions and hyenas, their primary predators, do not posses particularly well-developed color vision. The stripes break up the zebras’ outline and when they stand together in a group, it can be hard to tell individual animals apart. When running, the stripes can great a optical effects that may make them harder to catch. No two zebras have the same stripe pattern, so it is possible that zebras use stripes to identify one another. Recent research have shown that the stripes have two unexpected benefits in that they act as a cooling system to help regulate the zebra’s temperature and keep away biting flies.

Have zebras ever been domesticated?

Unlike their horse and donkey cousins, zebras have never been successfully domesticated despite numerous attempts. They much less amenable to training, less predictable in their behavior, and prone to panicking under stress. Zebras have a strong anti-predator response and many a would-be rider suffered the brunt of this from an irritated would-be steed. Due to their close genetic ties, however, zebras can crossbreed with both horses and donkeys. Collectively these hybrids are known as zebroids and include animals such as the zorse, zebrula, zony, zebmule, zonkey, and zedonk. Zebroids are born sterile, much like mules.

Are Grevy’s zebras endangered?

Grevy’s zebras are considered to be endangered, although their population is stable. They used to be hunted for their hides but have been legally protected in both Ethiopia and Kenya since the 1970’s. These days, their primary threats come from the loss of their habitat and from competition with domestic livestock. Invasive mesquite has been driving native grass species into extinction, leaving the zebras with limited food supply.

 

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