The zebra is a close relative to the horse and the donkey. They have horse like bodies and manes that are made up of short, erect hair. They are best known for their distinct black and white striped body.
No one zebra has the same pattern of stripes, just like our fingerprints. It is thought that their coat helps with camouflage as their patterns make it difficult for predators to identify a single animal from a running heard.
There are three species of zebra in Africa, two of which are found in eastern Africa. The most common and widespread species is the Burchell’s zebra, also known as the plains zebra. The other species is Grevy’s zebra, which is named after Jules Grevy, the president of France in the 1800s who received one as a gift. The final species is the one that is most commonly found in southern and southwestern Africa, the Equus zebra, which is also known as the mountain zebra.
Zebras are very social animals that spend most of their days in large groups called harems, grazing on grass. Plains and mountain zebras live in harems made up of one male and up to six females with their young. They sleep standing up and have to be constantly aware of predators such as hyenas and big cats. If they spot a predator they will bark or whine loudly to warn the others. If a zebra is attacked, its family will come to its defence, circling the wounded zebra, trying to drive off the predator.
These harems form close family bonds. They are often found together grooming each other by nibbling on the hair on their backs and necks. They all look out for one another and when one becomes separated from the group, they will go and search for it. When travelling long distances, they will adjust their pace to accommodate the old and the weak members of the harem. The females within these harems observe a strict hierarchal system. There is always a dominant male, who leads the group, and the females follow in a single file, each with their foals behind them with the lowest ranking female at the back of the line.