38 interesting facts about Zebras. Stripes, speed, conservation & more.

resting zebras

Zebras are probably the easiest African animals to identify because of the black and white striped coat. From wondering whether they can be ridden like horses, to why they have stripes, Zebras are that much fascinating - and then some more.

There are many questions about zebras, and luckily the science and conservation have provided a lot of answers - which we love learning about and sharing with you.

In this article, you'll learn some science-based facts about zebras, all the way from the stripes, to the zig-zag running and everything in between. Let's go!.

Zebras, Quick Fact Sheet.

Here is a quick summary of zebras. We dig deeper into the details in the parts that follow.

  • Number of Species: 3 zebra species
  • Common Names: Grevy's Zebra, Mountain Zebra, and Plains/Common Zebra.
  • Habitat Range: Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Height: 3.6 feet - 5.2 feet
  • Weight: 204 kg - 450 kg
  • Main Diet: Grass

Species

1. How many zebras species exist?

There are 3 existing species of Zebra. The Grevy's zebra, the plains zebra, and the mountain zebra. These different species can easily be identified and differentiated from each other.

2. How can you separate the zebra species?

Interestingly, you can tell Zebra species apart by looking at their stripe patterns as well as other physical attributes like size.

Grevy's Zebras have a narrow striping pattern with concentric stripes at the rump with a white belly and base of the tail. Grevy's zebras have a tall erect mane with a short but thick neck.

Mountain zebras have stripes everywhere except for the belly. The mountain zebra is also the smallest of the species and can easily be seen in smaller family groups compared to the other 2 zebra species.

Plains or Common Zebras have broader stripes that are vertical on the fore part of the body and tend to be horizontal on the hind part. Its size is intermediate of the 3 species and has relatively shorter legs.

3. Zebra Name Origins

The name zebra started out as "equiferus" which means "wild horse" in Latin. Equiferus later translated to Portuguese as ezebro or zebro - from which it adopted the current English name of Zebra in the 1600s.

It is said that in ancient times, the Romans and Greeks referred to zebra s a hippotigris ("Horse Tiger") - because of the stripes (like a tiger) and looking like a horse.

4. What is Zebra is Swahili

In Swahili name for Zebra is 'Punda Milia' which literally translates to "Striped donkey". It is strange how many varied cultures were having closely related names.

5. Zebra Hybrids

Hybrids of two different zebra species have been reported. While Grevy's and plains zebra can at times produce fertile offspring, the hybrids with a mountain zebra are infertile because of the difference in DNA chromosomes.

Zebras in captivity (zoo or sanctuary) have been crossbred with horses, ponies, and donkeys to produce young ones know as zebroids. Zebroids are often infertile and may become dwarfed in size.

Here are the names of the various hybrids of a zebra and horse, donkey, or pony.

1 Zebra + Horse = Zorse
2 Zebra + Donkey = Zonkey
3 Zebra + Pony = Zoni

Zebra Habitat

6. Where do zebras live in the Wild?

In general, zebras can be found in the wild protected areas of Eastern and Southern Africa. The plains zebras which are the most widely spread can be very easily found in national parks and game reserves of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Mountain Zebras are only found in South Africa, Namibia, and Angola. Grevy's Zebras are also confined to Somalia, northern Kenya, and southern Ethiopia.

zebras in maasai mara

Related article: Where zebras live in the wild

7. Zebra habitat

Zebras love areas of grasslands where they can graze on the grass. You will not find zebras living in wetlands, deserts, or rainforests as these areas don't meet the pasture requirements.

The plains zebras inhabit grass plains and wooded savannahs while the mountain zebras will be found in grassy hills. Grevy's zebra roam arid grasslands for grass and water.

8. Which National Parks have Zebras

There are many national parks and game reserves in Eastern and Southern Africa where zebras live freely in their natural environment.

9. Can I see zebras at the zoo?

Yes, you can see zebras by visiting a zoo with some. At the zoo, the experience and interaction are different from when in their natural home, but it is still wonderful. If there is a nearby zoo with some zebras, a visit wouldn't hurt.

Physical Facts About Zebras 

herd of zebras

10. What colour is a zebra's skin?

While much of the zebra's fur is white, with black stripes, their actual skin colour is black.

11. How much do zebras weigh?

Generally, zebras weigh from 204kg to 450kg. The Grevy's zebra is the heaviest of the 3 zebra species. In all the species, males are bigger than females except for mountain zebras. Here is a summary table of their weight ranges - in kilograms and pounds.

# Species Weight range in Kg Weight range in Lb
1 Grevy's zebra 350 - 450 Kg 770 - 990 Lb
2 Plains zebra 220 - 322 Kg 485 - 710 Lb
3 Mountain zebra 204 - 372 Kg 450 - 820 Lb

12. How tall is a zebra?

Grevy's zebras are the tallest of zebras and stand up to 5.2 feet shoulder height. The mountain and plains zebra can be up to 4.7 feet tall at the shoulder.

13. How fast can a zebra run?

Zebras run really fast and can reach a speed of 68 kilometers (42 miles) per hour. In comparison, a lion can run at 57 km/h (35 mph) while a human can run at a maximum of 45km/h while running.

At that speed, a lion has to catch a zebra in the first 6 to 10 seconds of breaking cover or the zebra would leave it in the dust.

14. How long can zebras travel

During the migratory months, zebras can move long distances in search of food and water. Plains zebras have been recorded moving from Namibia to Botswana over a distance of 500 kilometers (300 miles). This is the longest land migration of animals in Africa.

15. How do zebras run?

Unlike most animals that run in a straight line, zebras can run in a zig-zag manner at full speed. Combined with the speed and the dazzling effect of the stripes, zebras are tough in a long chase.

Zebra Stripes

16. Stripes are unique to every zebra.

zebras in a super herd

Just like the human fingerprints, or the gorilla's noseprint, each and every zebra has a unique stripe that no other zebra has. Even in the rare instances of a zebra giving birth to twins, the stripes are different.

So, the next time you see zebras (even in photos), be keen and try to notice the patterns. 

17. Stripes Can differentiate zebra species.

Different zebra species have different stripe patterns and this is the easiest way for anyone to differentiate the species from each other.

For example, the Grevy's zebra has a thin stripe pattern with a white belly, whereas the plains zebra has broader stripes that tend to be horizontal at the rump.

18. Stripes repel bugs and insects.

A zebra's stripes are helpful in preventing bites from insects and bugs.

Since zebras live in areas with many parasite bugs and flies that spread diseases, thus saving their lives since these insects and bugs rarely target zebras. The stripes just make it hard for the flies to make a landing on the zebra's body. 

19. Stripes Confuse predators, like lions.

Because of the stripes, predators can't easily distinguish between individuals, the number in a herd, or their sizes. Not being able to know these makes hunting difficult, even for top predators like lions and wild dogs.

During a chase, the stripes create a motion dazzle which makes judging the speed and trajectory of the zebra even more challenging. A computerized study conducted in 2014 found that motion signals can give misleading information and lead to confusion.

Social

20. What is a group of Zebras?

grevys zebra in samburu

A group of zebras is called a herd, a dazzle, or a zeal. A herd/dazzle of zebras can be comprised of anything from 5 to 20 individual animals and is led by a dominant stallion.

In the event of migration, zebras can form big super herds of thousands of members. In this instance, you will also see zebras easily mixing with wildebeest and other antelopes.

21. Social Hierarchy in zebras.

Each group (zeal) of zebras consists of one stallion, several mares, and their young offspring. The Stallion is responsible for protecting the herd from invading stallions and predators as well.

22. Reproduction in zebras

Zebras reproduce like other mammals by the female giving birth to a young one. The length of gestation varies in the 3 zebra species from 11 to 13 months. The young foals nurse from their mothers for 8 to 13 months.

The process of giving birth in zebras can also be referred to as foaling - because a baby zebra is called a foal.

23. How many babies does a zebra give birth to?

Zebras give birth to one foal at a time. In the very rare instances where a zebra gave birth to twins, the survival rate was very low and only one of the foals survived.

24. How does foal identify their mother zebras?

As a way of 'imprinting' their pattern, scent, and vocalization to the newborn zebra, the mother zebra will keep the foal from interaction with other mares for around 2 weeks. This bonding time helps the young zebra know and easily identifying the mother among the other mares.

25. How Fast is a young zebra?

Zebras are born fast. That is the only way to survive in the jungle. A newborn Zebra can run almost as fast as the herd, just a few hours after birth.

26. How do zebras sleep?

Zebras, like horses, often sleep while standing up. This is because they have to always be alert for the possibility of danger in the wild.

They sleep when there are other zebras to provide warning and protection from predators.

27. Why do zebras kill their young?

As with many animals in the wild, zebras will sometimes kill newborn foals. This infanticide is often seen when a new dominant stallion has taken over a herd by defeating and replacing the former stallion.

Under the same circumstances of a new stallion, feticide may occur through violence to the pregnant mare as a way of leading to a miscarriage.

zebras eating grass

28. What do zebras eat?

Zebras primarily eat grass but will at times consume leaves, buds, fruits, and barks. Zebras spend about 70% of their time feeding and rarely move more than 12 kilometers from a water source.

29. Are zebras intelligent?

While they might not be comparable to elephants, zebras are regarded as intelligent by a good measure. The fact that they can migrate up to 2,900 kilometers for food in an orderly manner is telling of their smarts.

Zebras are also compassionate and take care of their injured fellow, especially during the migrations for food.

This is probably more sneaky than intelligent but zebras graze with smaller animals which makes a better target for the predators. And since animals like antelopes are easier prey, zebras are able to stay alive.

Elephants are considered among the most inteliggent wild animals, check out our article about elephant facts, to learn more.

30. What sounds do zebras make?

In the wild, zebras are often quiet and focus on the task of grazing. Zebras do however many various sounds and can bark, snort or bray.

The sounds are a useful part of the zebra's social interactions with other animals.

31. Why do zebras rotate their ears?

Zebras rotate the ears in all directions as a way of communicating with other zebras, without sound. From communicating their mood to threats, the ears are a big part of a zebra's social characteristics.

32. Why aren't zebras domesticated?

The idea of domesticating zebras isn't new, because it has actually been tried - with unsuccessful results. Compared to their cousins the horses, zebras are more aggressive and have a temper.

A zebra's back kick is powerful enough to seriously injure a lion, so taming them is a stiff endeavor that has often failed.

33. Why do zebras hug?

Zebras hug as a way of relaxing and looking out for predators in any direction. With each zebra resting the head on the back of the other, it is restful for the neck while equally giving both animals a 360-degree view of their surrounding.

So, while the 'hug' of zebras is absolutely cute and affectionate looking, it is a more practical adaptation for the wilderness they live in.

Threats

34. What animals hunt zebras?

In the African wilderness, zebras are hunted and killed by predators such as leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs, lions, crocodiles, and hyenas. Crocodiles can attack zebras by surprise and kill them when they are visiting water sources for a drink.

Some zebras also die as a result of humans poaching them for meat and the skin.

35. How do zebras protect themselves?

Zebras are very protective of each other and have devised several ways of protecting themselves against the dangers of the wild.

When under attack, zebras can form a circle to easily fight off the predators by kicking, and biting. The young ones are often protected at the center of the circle and the mature mares and stallion join forces to get rid of the predator.

Similarly, when zebras are migrating and one individual in the herd/dazzle gets injured, they will all slow down to accommodate the hurt individual.

Conservation Status

36. Are zebras in danger?

The conservation status of the zebras is different with each species. According to research data from the IUCN Red List, Plains zebras are near threatened while Grevy's zebras are endangered.

  • Grevy's zebras are Endangered
  • Mountain zebras are Vulnerable
  • Plains zebras are Near Threatened

With climate change and human encroachment on their habitat for human economic activity, zebras are in both short-term and long-term danger.

37. How many zebras are left in the wild

According to research numbers by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are between 200,000 and 300,000 zebras in the wild. This big variation in numbers comes from the plains zebras, whose estimates are highly varied.

# Zebra species Population estimates Population trends
1 Grevy's zebra 1,956  Stable
2 Mountain zebra 34, 979 Increasing
3 Plains zebra 150,000 - 250,000 Decreasing

38. How does tourism help zebras?

By generating revenue and leading to economic development, tourism plays a big role in helping protect the habitats of zebras as well as fighting other threats such as poaching which could happen when the protection of the zebras is not in place.

So, if you happen to go on safari, you can be sure that you are not supporting local businesses but also helping to keep the home of zebras in the way nature intended it.

Final Thoughts

Zebras are so interesting not just for their charming looks but their social habits as well. It is no wonder that zebras are on the list of animals many people try to see while on an African safari.

We hope that this has increased your curiosity about zebras, and you now have zebras solidified on your African Animal bucket list.

Knowing some of these facts makes your actual in-person visit to zebras even more interesting. You will get to live out all the science and research that has gone into understanding zebras, for more than 100 years.

Since zebras live in areas with many other animals, they are easy to see along with others. If you are lucky to see them, you will be seeing even more in terms of other animals and the surrounding areas.

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