Facts About Zebras For Kids
Where are Zebras From
Zebras belong to the horse family and are found in Africa. There are three main types of Zebra. The plains zebra, also called Burchell's zebra has the widest distribution. It is found in South Ethiopa, East Africa, Botswana and South Africa.
The mountain zebra is found in Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It can be distinguished from the plains zebra by its white belly.
The third, and most rare, kind of is Grevy's zebra. It can be found in Kenya and Ethiopa. It is named after Jules Grevy, a French president, who received these zebras as a gift from the emperor of Ethiopia in 1882.
Grevy's zebras also have white bellies. They are larger than the other two species, and have narrow stripes and large ears.
As well as these 3 different species, there are five subtypes of plains zebra, and 2 subtypes of mountain zebra. The different species can't breed together to produce hybrids. This is rather strange because zebras have been bread to other animals from the horse family.
The general name for a zebra hybrid is zebroid. The offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare is known as a zorse, while a hebra is the child of a horse stallion and a zebra mare. Zonkey's, the product of a zebra and a donkey are also not uncommon.
Usually the foal inherits the shape of the horse or donkey parent, but with the zebra striping. If the horse is piebald, the zorse might inherit the color pattern, with only the non-white areas showing stripes, like in the picture below.
Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?
The most striking thing about zebras is their pattern of white and black stripes. They even gave their name to markings on roads, you can go across a road safely at a zebra crossing!
For years scientists have been puzzled by why zebras evolved with their markings. There is no final answer, but several theories have been put forward.
- They might help zebras recognise each other. Each individual has a unique pattern of stripes, a little bit like a human fingerprint.
- They might help camouflage the animals so they are not easily spotted by predators like tigers and leopards. This might seem strange at first because the highly contrasting stripes appear to make them super visible, but if they are standing in tall grass, with bright sunlight creating stripes of light and shadow, they might actually blend in.
- The stripes in a herd of fast moving animals might confuse and dazzle predators. They might make it difficult for a lion to figure out where one zebra ends and another begins, so it can't decide where to attack.
- A fascinating experiment by Hungarian scientists suggests that the stripes make them much less attractive to horse flies, including the dangerous tse tse fly which spreads sleeping sickness. It is thought that this is due to the way light is reflected by the stripes. The scientists made models of horses, coloured them dark, white and stripy. Covered them with a sticky substance and saw how many flies were trapped by each model after a day in the field. Dark horses appear to attract the most flies, and stripy horses the least.
Would you like to ride in a carriage pulled by Zebras
Why Zebras Have Not Been Domesticated
Zebras are completely wild animals and have never been domesticated, unlike horses or donkeys. People have tried, especially in Africa, since they have more resistance against tropical diseases, but it is very difficult to ride a zebra. They are more aggressive and panic more easily than a horse.
However, with persistence, there have been a few successes. The most famous example is Walter Rothschild, from the incredibly wealthy banking family. He was far more interested in nature than in banking, and was fascinated by zebras. After a huge amount of training, he managed to teach a few zebras to draw his carriage, and was famous as an eccentric who use to ride around London in a carriage pulled by zebras rather than horses.
Orphaned Baby Zebra Feeding from a Bottle
Zebras in the Wild
Zebras are herbivores and feed mainly on grass, although they might also eat leaves, herbs and bark occasionally.
They have very keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell. It is thought that they can see colours.
The main predators of zebras are lions, leopards and wild African dogs. The main defence is escape from danger, they are constantly wary, they sleep standing up, like horses in a herd, and any zebra that senses danger will warn its mates.
They can reach speeds of up to 35 miles an hour, which is slower than horses but they have great stamina and can keep it up for a long time.
Plains and mountain zebras are very social animals, they live in groups called harems consisting of one stallion, several mares and their foals. They will often groom each other, like horses, to strengthen the bonds between them.
When they are attacked they will bunch together with the foals in the middle of the group. Although their main defence is their speed, if they can't outrun their attacker they will aggressively defend themselves by kicking it.
Grevy's zebras are not that social and don't live in groups, they will come together to breed, but the mare will keep other zebras from her foal.
Zebra foals are born brown and white. The brown stripes darken to black with time.