About African Zebra

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Zebra of South Africa

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Zebra in Swahili means striped donkeys. There is quitea controversy about the function of the stripes but the general opinion is that they serve as a form of visual antipredator device, either as a camouflage or to break up form when seen from a distance.

Two species are found in Kenya : Grevyís (Equus Grevyi) and Burchellís Zebra (Equus Burchelli) Grevyís zebras are only found in northern Kenya. There are still about 10,000 left, but their numbers are rapidly disappearing due to hunting by man for their skins. They have narrower stripes and larger ears than Burchellís zebra. Burchellís or common zebras are found throughout East and Central Africa. There are more than 100,000 in the Serengeti alone.

Zebras are animals of open and wooded grasslands and are never far from perennial water. Grevyís inhabit more and areas and are much more drought-resistant than Burchellís, which is rarely found far from a source.

They are active round the clock but will look for shade at midday, resting periodically at night. Zebras make a typical horse like neighing sound.

Among their enemies are lions, hunting dogs, spotted hyaenas, and, of course, man. A common response to alarm is bunching. Zebra stallions are fierce fighters and kick back with great ferocity. Mares are as brave as stallions when their foals are involved.

The basic zebra social unit is a more or less permanent group of females with young looked after by a dominant stallion. The tightest social bond is naturally between mare and foal. Young females stay with the family group: as they approach maturity males wander off with bachelor groups. Burchellís zebra live in groups with permanent membership: there is a lead stallion and a number of females with their offspring. The Serengeti groups get together and participate in the great migrations of East and Central Africa when the range begins to deteriorate in the dry season.

Grevyís zebra have temporary associations that rarely last more than a few months. Territorial males defend large territories during the breeding season and attempt to keep female groups within their boundaries. Outside the breeding season, they mix with other male groups.

Breeding in both species is linked to the rains. Sexual maturity in males occurs at about one to two years but social maturity the ability to take and defend a territory or female herd does not come until about six years. Courtship is followed by repeat coatings at one or two hour intervals over two days. Gestation takes around a year.

Young foals are surprisingly independent, even at one month old. They may be left alone whilst the mare grazes hundreds of metres away or walks several kilometres to water. Animals up to about the age of six months are reddish-brown rather than black.

Zebras have evolved stomachs which allow them to feed on coarse, stemmy grass largely passed over by other members of the grazing community. This enables them to survive when other grazers cannot.

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