The plains zebra is well-known for its black and white striped appearance. Their skin is black with white fur to create the stripes. The stripe pattern of each zebra is individual. Some of these zebras have a faint brown shadow stripe which sits between the main black stripe.
The purpose of this pattern is unclear. It does provide some protection when fleeing predators as their colors blend together and confuse predators to the location of an individual zebra. Another theory is that it helps with controlling their body temperature as both colors react differently to heat.
On the top of the neck is a mane of fur which has the same striped pattern of the body.
At the end of the body is a tail which has the stripes of the body along almost half of its length with black hairs at the end of the tail. This tail measures between 47 and 56cm (18.5-22in) long.
A plains zebra is slightly smaller than the domestic horse. They measure between 2.2 and 2.5m (7.25-8.25ft) long and weigh 175-285kg (390-850lbs). At the shoulder they stand 1-1.47m (3.3-4.8ft) tall. Females are slightly smaller than males.
The plains zebra is a herbivore. The majority of their diet is made from grass with the rest consisting of leaves and buds. When food is lacking they may also eat bark off of trees.
Plains zebras are typically the first grazers to enter an area with gazelles and wildebeest moving in once they have shortened the grass.
When they drink they may consume as much as 4L (1 gallon) of water in a single session.
Wild 20 years
Captive 40 years
Africa is the native home of the plains zebra. Here they can be found in Angola, Botswana, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
They may be extinct in Somalia and it is believed that they are extinct in Burundi and Lesotho.
They make their home in savanna, shrubland and grasslands.
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Breeding can take place year round though foaling appears to be concentrated during the wet season.
Females enter estrus soon after their last foal was born. She will stand in front of a male and then push back against him to initiate mating.
A single foal is born after a 13 month gestation period. Twins are possible. Foaling typically occurs in the morning with the birth only taking around 10 minutes. Soon after birth the foal is standing and they are moving within an hour. At birth their stripes are typically brown.
Weaning occurs around 9 months of age.
Males leave their birth herd between 2 and 3 years old. Females will move to a new herd at around 2 years old. A non-related male will come to the herd and challenge the father to a fight. If he wins this the father will allow him to take a female foal.
While sexually maturity is typically reached prior to 2 years old the males will not first breed till between 4 and 5 years old. Females first breed around 3 or 4 years old.
Each year groups of plains zebra migrate from Tanzania’s Serengeti plains, north to Kenya. During this they cover 2,900km (1,800 miles). Hundreds of thousands of zebra will participate in this movement.
They live in a family unit known as a harem which includes a dominant male, multiple females and their young. Males which do not have control over a harem will form bachelor herds and roam together.
Plains zebra use a range of vocalizations to communicate. They will also use their ears to communicate with other herd members.
A plains zebra is able to run at up to 65km/h (40.1mph).
They are active by day. During the night they will sleep on their size though one member of the harem remains awake to keep an eye out for predators.
Oxpeckers will sit on zebras and eat ticks which are attached to their skin.
Plains zebras can close their nostrils to stop the entry of dust.
Predators and Threats
When threatened by predators they will huddle together and their stripes make it hard for the predator to tell which end is their head and which is the tail. They will run in a zig-zag pattern when attempting to escape predators.
The group will slow its pace to ensure younger and weaker members keep up.
Humans hunt the plains zebra both for meat and for their skin. Other threats posed by humans include habitat encroachment and competition for food with domestic livestock.
Their migration routes are sometimes blocked by fencing. If these are removed they will reestablish this migration route.
A group of zebras may be known as a herd, zeal or a dazzle in reference to the way they dazzle predators by grouping together.
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Copyright. The Animal Facts.
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Martin, R., Bryan, K., Cooper, D. and Bond, S., n.d. The Animal Book. Lonely Planet.
Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) Fact Sheet. c2015-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed 2020/11/05]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ plains_zebra.
King, S.R.B. & Moehlman, P.D. 2016. Equus quagga. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41013A45172424. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T41013A45172424.en. Downloaded on 05 November 2020.
Copyright The Animal Facts 2020