Prison ponies, pajama ponies or stripey horses – there’s no mistaking the similarity in appearance between zebras and horses.
At first glance, zebras look like stocky, stripey horses. After all, they are very closely related to horses and donkeys; and are classed in the same genus, Equus. However, there is obviously a lot more to these animals than just being the wild counterpart to horses. Apart from their striking appearance, they possess several other characteristics that make them stand out from the rest of the herd.
Here a few interesting facts about zebras:
1. There are three main species of zebras; namely Grevy’s zebra, Mountain zebra, and the one which we find here in South Africa, the plains zebra or Burchell’s zebra.
2. Zebras have a different bone structure to horses. They have solid tails, unlike horses, and their bodies are smaller and stockier than horses.
3. Each zebra has a different arrangement of stripes that are each as unique as a fingerprint. These stripes serve many purposes, with the most obvious one being that they help hide the zebras from any lurking dangers. As predators are colour-blind, the stripes provide the perfect disguise when in long grass. They also help deter flies and act as a highly effective cooling system.
4. The official answer to the age-old question: “Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes?” is that zebras are definitely black with white stripes. This is because zebras actually have black skin, which can be seen on the muzzles.
5. Zebras have very good eyesight and it is believed that they can see colour. As their eyes are on the side of their head, zebras have a very wide field of vision. Their night vision isn’t as good, but their excellent hearing and ability to swivel their ears in any direction, helps them to stay alert after dark.
6. Zebras are not as fast as horses, but have excellent stamina. They are able to avoid predators by staying in large groups and running away in zigzag patterns, which confuses the predators. They also use their powerful back legs to kick out at their enemies.
7. Like horses, zebras usually sleep standing up, and only for a few hours a day. There will often be a few ‘watch guards’ though, that stay awake to keep an eye out for danger.
8. Bonus Fact: The Burchell’s Zebra was named after the British explorer, William John Burchell – but it was meant as an insult, not an honour. In the early nineteenth century, William Burchell spent several years collecting plant and animal species in Africa. When he returned to England, the specimens were sent to the British Museum but were not stored correctly and perished.
This caused an argument between Burchell and the museum’s keeper of Zoological Collections, John Edward Gray, which ultimately resulted in Gray deciding to give the name ‘Asinus burchelli’ (Burchell’s ass) to Burchell’s zebra as a way of publicly embarrassing him.
It’s no wonder our guests never get tired of seeing zebras; not only are they beautiful, but they’re also fascinating creatures in their own right.
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