Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) is the commonest of Africa’s three zebra species and the one familiar to most safari goers.  Whether it is migrating in thousands across the Serengeti, grazing the bushveld of the Kruger or crowding the dusty waterholes of Etosha.

Six races occur, including Grants zebra (Serengeti-Mara), Burchell’s zebra (southern Africa), and Crawshay’s zebra (Malawi and parts of Zambia). Adults stand up to 1.3m at the shoulder and weigh up to 350kg.

  1. Zebras, like all members of the horse family, are ungulates with odd toes. They walk on tiptoe on a single central toe. The hoof (an enlarged toenail) protects this single toe.
  2. Like horses, zebras have four gaits: walk, trot, canter and gallop. Their powerful backward kick, given in self-defence, can break a lion’s jaw.
  3. The stripes on a Plain's zebra’s neck continue onto its mane, which has stiff, erect hairs. Zebras nibble each other’s mane and neck to reinforce social bonds during mutual grooming.
  4. Zebras live in small, hierarchical family groups, each comprising a stallion with a harem of mares and their foals. The dominant mare generally leads the group/ The others follow in single file, according to rank, each with her foal directly behind her. The stallion usually brings up the rear, though may take the lead in dangerous situations.
  5. There are many theories to explain zebra’s stripes. Some believe that they confuse a charging predator trying to select a target from a fleeing herd. Others suggest that they allow individuals to distinguish each other. And that they deter biting flies, and even help the animals to withstand intense solar radiation.

Animals on Safari

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By Mike Unwin
United Kingdom UK

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

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