The Plains Zebra
The plains zebra is capable of galloping at nearly 42 mph, faster than all but the swiftest of predators. It striped coat breaks up its outline, making it hard for predators to select from the herd.
The plains zebra is abundant in eastern Africa, where it grazes the grasslands in close knit family groups. The stallion that leads each group is tireless in the defense of this family. The zebra’s coat has been compared to the human finger print, the striped pattern is so varied that no two zebras are identical.
His ears can be swiveled to pinpoint sounds and also to convey his mood. The zebra’s sharp eyesight lets it spot predators easily. The zebra’s hoof is actually an extended middle toe. The stripes break up the body outline in a herd, making it difficult for a predator to choose its prey.
Plains zebras live on grassland and savannah in eastern Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Like many grazing animals of the savannah, the zebra must have access to water. Although it can digest the toughest grasses, it needs to drink at least once every five days.
Plains zebras form family groups of one stallion, one to six mares and their foals. Plains zebras behavior is a balance of feeding, avoiding predators and group social interaction. The zebra’s main defense against predators is alertness. If a zebra spots a predator, it brays an alarm and the herd clusters together, facing toward the threat. The stallion goes to help any member in trouble and won’t hesitate to lash out with its sharp hoofs at a hyena or even a lion.
A zebra spends most of it’s life eating: it feeds mainly on grasses and leaves. The zebra’s anatomy is specially adapted to get the most nutrients from the poorest vegetation. The zebra’s ability to digest plant matter unpalatable to others reduces competition for food with other herbivores, but the low nutritional content means the zebra must eat large quantities. Zebras are most vulnerable at waterholes. In some areas, zebra families join together for protection and only drink at night.
Most births of the zebra, occur in the wet season from January to March. The foal is on its feet after 15 minutes and is suckling within an hour. For the next few days,the mother keeps other family members away until she and the foal recognize one another by sight and voice. The foal remains close to its mother, suckling and later grazing for itself. Young plains zebras leave the family group when they become sexually mature at about two years, but they rarely gain breeding status for at least another couple of years.
The plains zebra is about 750,000 strong and its future as a species seems secure. Competition with livestock for grazing land is the biggest threat to the zebra. It is also hunted for its attractive hid and its flesh.