zebra (Equus), it's an animal equid (Members of the equine family (Equidae)) and are medium-sized, odd-toed ungulates. Zebras are native to southern and central Africa. Although zebras are highly adaptable animals when it comes to their habitats, most of them live in grasslands and savannas.

Zebras were the second species to deviate from the first protohorses, after donkeys, about 4 million years ago. Grévy's zebra is believed to have been the first species to emerge.

The zebra is a sociable diurnal animal.

Species

There are three species: the burchell's or plains zebra (Equus quagga), The Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi) And mountain zebra (Equus zebra).

Like horses and donkeys, zebras belong to the equidae family. The main characteristics shared by the group are that they are long-lived, fast-moving and with large teeth, suitable for chewing anything herbivorous. Zebras, regardless of species, live for approximately 25 years in the wild and up to 40 in captivity. The zebra looks like a horse, except it has a short, tufted mane and those distinctive stripes. Each species of zebra has its own general pattern of stripes, but what is more fascinating, each zebra has its own unique pattern of stripes, in the same way that a person has a unique set of fingerprints. Scientists offer some suggestions about the purpose of a zebra's stripes. They can act as camouflage or sunscreen, or they can keep flies away or help zebras recognize each other.

Equus quagga

As is typical in science, two species of zebras are named after the scientists who discovered and identified them. Burchell's zebra, which is also known as the plains zebra, is the most numerous of the three species. One of the best places to see plains zebras is in the Serengeti Park in Tanzania, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

This species likes to live in small units made up of a stallion, a few mares and their young. These small units occasionally join together with others to form spectacularly huge herds. These herds are often the first to enter new grasslands, especially wetlands. They trample the long vegetation so that the gazelle and wildebeest can follow.

Equus grevyi

Grévy's zebra is larger than Burchell's, weighing between 350 and 450 kilograms, compared to 220 to 250 kilograms for a Burchell's zebra. Two characteristics distinguish it from the other species of zebra: it has a longer mane and larger ears. The Grévy it is only slightly higher than c. Burchell's, indicating that the Burchell it has a much more robust body. Perhaps that is why the Romans used Grévy's zebra, which they called hippopotigris, to pull carts in circuses.

Grévy's zebra is found mainly in northern Kenya, but in substantially small numbers. There are only about 2.500 Grévys in Africa, compared to 15.000 a few decades ago, according to the AWF. The conversion of grazing land for agricultural use is one of the main threats to these animals.

Equus Zebra

It has two subspecies: Hartmann and the cape mountain zebra. These species live mainly in southern Africa, particularly in Namibia and western South Africa. Compared to Burchell's and Grévy's zebra, this species prefers mountainous areas. Its stripes are finer and more numerous than those of the Burchell's zebra, and it has broad stripes on its rump that distinguish it from the other two species.

It also has a fold of skin on its throat, called a dewlap, that other zebras don't have. Both subspecies are classified as endangered. In the past, hunting decimated herds, but now cultivation of the land is a greater threat.

Features

The zebra is a member of the horse family, quite large in size and striped. Adult mountain zebras have a head and body length of 210 to 260 cm, and a tail length of 40 to 55 cm. The height of the shoulders ranges from 116 to 150 cm. The mountain zebra usually weighs between 240 and 372 kg. Adult mares weigh an average of 234 kg and stallions usually weigh between 250 and 260 kg. The Hartmann's adult mountain zebras They are slightly larger, with mares averaging 276 kg and stallions averaging 298 kg. Stallions 7 years and older have an average weight of 343 kg and an average shoulder height of 144,5 cm.

The ground color of the body is white, with black to dark brown stripes that continue through the short, erect mane. The stripes on the head and body are narrow and more numerous than those on the rump, and the legs are striped on the hooves. The back of the dorsal stripe forms a distinctive "grill" pattern that continues into the tail and extends to the beater near the tip. The muzzle is black.

Both subspecies of E. zebra are good climbers and have exceptionally hard and pointed hooves compared to other equines. The most distinctive feature is the presence of a double chin, or fold of skin, hanging down from the throat.

The color pattern of E. zebra is intermediate between the Burchell's Zebra and Grevy's Zebra. La Equus zebra can be distinguished from Equus burchelli for having a double chin; narrower and more numerous stripes on head and body; wider stripes on hindquarters without "shadow" stripes; a "grill" pattern on the rump; white underparts with a black stripe on the ventral middle of the chest and belly; and ears over 200 mm long.

Zebras graze in a herd led by a stallion.

The cape mountain zebras they are slightly smaller than Hartmann's zebras. The upper two or three dark stripes on the rump are very wide, while they are less so on the Hartmann's mountain zebras, where some of the white stripes may be wider than the dark stripes.

Behavior

The zebra is a social species whose populations consist of breeding herds and groups of singles. Mountain zebras are not territorial, but breeding herds occupy widely overlapping ranges. When a breeding herd is separated, the home range of the resulting herds includes the home range of the original herd, but they are larger. Penzhorn found that this illustrates the role of mares in delineating group activities and, therefore, in defining the range of a breeding herd.

There are social hierarchies within a breeding herd. The stallion is the dominant member of the herd, with an evident linear hierarchy among mares from small herds. In newly established herds, the stallion must actively prevent the mares and foals from leaving. In larger, often older herds, the role of the stallion is relatively passive, and social hierarchies are more difficult to determine because each member of the herd seems to know their relative position. Although dominant mares are more likely to initiate most herd activities, there is no direct correlation between dominance and leadership.

In zebras in the Cape Mountains, heat and the birth of a foal can influence the social hierarchy by causing mares to temporarily take the lead. However, Penzhorn found that reproductive success is not essential for social dominance. The hierarchical position of a foal is more or less determined by its size, but foals also receive some benefits from the mother's status when it is around.

Singles groups also have a hierarchy of rank, but it is less stable than that of breeding herds.

Both subspecies of mountain zebra are predominantly diurnal, and are active in the early morning and late afternoon until sunset. Grazing and resting take up most of the daylight hours. Rest is done standing or lying down. Mountain zebras usually drink once or twice a day. During the cold, they often seek refuge in wooded ravines and shallow caves, and visit the east-facing slopes on cool mornings to soak up the sun.

Breeding herds show seasonal differences in their selection of certain plant communities. The selection may not only be for food, but also for shelter, places to drink and to lick minerals. The rainfall regime also affects the distribution of zebras.

Individual grooming takes the form of jerking, rubbing, scratching, biting, and localized muscle contractions. They also usually take a powder bath daily. Mountain zebras are involved in grooming each other, which not only has a practical function, but is also important in maintaining group cohesion. Mutual grooming most often takes place between mares and foals. However, it also occurs between foals and herd stallions, mares and herd stallions, and between pairs of mares.

Although the game has rarely been documented in E. z. Zebra, is more common in E. z. hartmannae. Game patterns include races and chases, challenge games, and game fights. Challenge games generally consist of nasonasal contact followed by mutual grooming or body rubbing.

Communication

Mountain zebras communicate primarily using visual and auditory cues. Since no two individuals have identical stripe patterns, the body pattern can be used for individual identification. At close range, individuals can also be recognized by smell.

Among all members of the horse family, the position of the ears, the stretching of the corners of the mouth, the exposure of the teeth, the opening of the mouth, and the position of the head and tail serve as signs of the state of mind or intentions of an individual. The ears were tipped back against the threat of the head signal, especially when accompanied by a lowered head and open mouth. During greeting rituals, mountain zebras touch noses and communicate rank by position of their ears. As a gesture of inferiority, the younger ones turn their ears to one side and make chewing movements with exposed incisors when greeting adults.

Mountain zebras make a variety of vocalizations. Stallions make a high-pitched snort or alarm call to alert herd members to danger. Single stallions squeal when faced with a herd stallion. To express satisfaction when feeding, mountain zebras make a soft sound caused by forced air between closed lips.

Habitat

The zebra inhabits the slopes and plateaus of the mountainous areas of South Africa and Namibia (South West Africa). Zebras can be found up to 2.000 meters above sea level, but in winter they move to lower areas.

The habitat in South Africa provides regular rainfall and a fairly constant food supply throughout the year.

Distribution

We can only find the zebra in Africa, any of its species can be found distributed between eastern and southern Africa.

Distribution range

In winter, the breeding herds have a grazing area of ​​6 to 20 km2 and the grazing areas in summer are considerably smaller. The herds of E. z. hartmannae can cover more than a couple thousand square kilometers per year in forage. The distribution area of Equus zebra It is 9,4 km2 on average and ranges between 3,1 and 16 km2.

These equids rub each other as a gesture of perseverance.

Food

Both subspecies of zebra are herbivorous. The primary diet consists of grass, but it also includes grass. Stallions direct their herd towards greener plant species with a high leaf to stem ratio. Still, they are still thick grasslands and exploit the stem and leaf parts of selected grasses. Grobler (1983) found that they feed on only 26% of the available plants, and only 7 of the 17 species of grass present at feeding sites. The main herb eaten is Themeda triandra. Other herbs consumed include: Cymbopogon plurinodis, Heteropogon contortus, Setaria neglecta, and Enneapogon scoparius.

Predators

Its main predators are:

  • Leones (Panthera leo)
  • Leopards (Panthera pardus)
  • Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • Hienas (Crocuta crocuta)
  • Lycaon (Lycaon pictus)

Defense

The dominant stallion alerts other members of the herd to danger with an alarm call or a high-pitched snort. He then takes a defensive position at the rear of the herd, while a mare, usually the one with the youngest foal, leads the rest of the herd. Running away is the most common response to threat, and is sometimes accompanied by a defensive kick. Pulling the ears back against the head, whipping the tail, and lowering the head with the neck stretched out and the teeth bared, is the form of threatening behavior. Although fighting is rarely seen, it consists of biting the opponent's head, neck, legs, and hindquarters. Mountain zebras act in response to flight and / or alarm signals from the black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou). However, they rarely respond to similar signals from smaller antelope species.

Especially at high temperatures, the striped pattern of these equines can serve as camouflage, as an adaptation to the resulting "ripple" of the air. At a distance of a few hundred meters, stripes make a mountain zebra appear fuzzy. To some extent, stingrays can also provide protection against disease-transmitting blood-sucking insects like flies and ticks.

Reproduction

The zebra has a polygamous mating system. They form small breeding herds consisting of an adult stallion and 1 to 5 mares with young. Breeding herds are stable for many years and mares often remain in a herd for life.

The mating system of Equus zebra results in a surplus of studs. These stallions join the groups of singles that form «the reserve in which the studs of the herd are recruited«. (Penzhorn 1988) New breeding bands can be formed when a single stallion obtains a young mare from a maternal herd, or an older mare from a fragmented herd, although the latter is not as common.

If a dominant stallion is successfully driven from his herd by a defiant stallion, the herd is taken over as a unit by the newcomer. Violent fighting, including kicking and biting, can occur when another stallion tries to take over a herd.

The stallions approach each other and perform a challenge ritual when two breeding herds come into contact. The challenge ritual consists of head contact, and body rubbing. Both stallions continue to graze and eventually return to their own herds. Sometimes herds join together to form larger temporary populations.

The zebra breeding season lasts all year. In E. z. Zebra, there is a birth peak from December to February. In E. z. harmannae, births peak from November to April.

The gestation period for both subspecies is approximately one year, and one foal is produced per breeding season. Foals weigh about 25 kg at birth, and the length of the head and body is about 120 cm. Foals are weaned around 10 months of age.

The age of sexual maturity in E. zebra differs between males and females. The testicles of E. z. hartmannae They reach their maximum size at approximately 42 months of age. Males are capable of acquiring and maintaining a herd for 5 to 6 years. Female mountain zebras produce foals between 3 and 6 years of age, with the mean age of the first parturitions being 66,5 months. Females have a birth interval of 1 to 3 years and can remain reproductively active until approximately 24 years of age.

On rare occasions, you will see an animal of this species alone.

Mountain zebra calves are born well developed. During the first weeks, the foals remain close to their mothers. The mother avoids interaction between the foal and other members of the herd by threatening any individual who gets too close. (Joubert, 1972a; Penzhorn, 1984)

The duration of breastfeeding varies in E. zebra, and the final time of weaning apparently depends on the proximity of the birth of a sibling. Mares usually suckle foals for periods of 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Breastfeeding time typically consists of 3 periods. There is an initial lactation period of about 1 minute, followed by a rest period of a few seconds. The second and last lactation period lasts 10-20 seconds. During the first 3 months of life, foals typically nurse at hourly intervals during the day, after which the frequency of sucking decreases. Foals often begin nibbling on grass when they are only a few days old. They are weaned after about 10 months of age.

Most foals leave their maternal herds in summer. Zebra pups of Equus zebra they leave their maternal herds of their own free will. Not only are foals not driven out by the dominant stallion of the herd, but the stallion can actively try to prevent them from leaving. Foals leave the herd between 13 and 37 months of age, with a mean age of 22 months. On average, foals leave their maternal herd 3 months after the birth of a sibling, and as such, the imminent birth of a sib does not appear to be particularly important at the time of departure. In contrast, Hartmann's mountain zebra mares attempt to expel their foals from the herd 14 to 16 months before the birth of a sibling. After several intervals, foals and fillies can be reintegrated into their maternal herds for short periods.

The role of males in parental care is not straightforward. They may play some role in protecting the young of the herd.

Zebras are docile animals but not suitable for domestication.

Shelf Life / Longevity

The life expectancy of mountain zebras in the wild is usually 20 years or more. The oldest documented mountain zebra in captivity is an E. z. hartmannae who was 29 years and 6 months old.

State of conservation

The IUCN Red List indicates that all species E. zebra is vulnerable (1994). The IUCN list and the US federal list indicate that they are in danger. It is also included in the CITES list of endangered species and is listed in Appendix I. Equus zebra hartmannae It is included in the IUCN list of threatened species and in the federal list of the United States, as well as in Appendix II of CITES.

The main threats to E. zebra include habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, collection, persecution, and intrinsic factors such as a restricted range. The Mountain Zebra National Park and other reserves were established for the protection of these animals. In 1995, it was estimated that there were more than 700 individuals. During the 1950s, the number of E. z. hartmannae was estimated between 50.000 and 75.000 individuals. In 1992 it was estimated that there were only about 8.000.

Relationship with humans

Mountain zebras bring in money from ecotourism, and some are still harvested for their skins.

Historically, the zebra was hunted for its skin, and because the species competed with livestock for grazing, it interfered with agricultural interests, and allegedly broke through fences.

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