Interesting Facts About Zebras For Kids

Do you know that the zebra’s black and white stripes can confuse lions? Here are some interesting facts about the zebra family, types of zebras, their physical features, food habits and behaviour.

By Dr Shyam Kumar

Interesting Facts About Zebras For Kids

Although native to Africa, the zebra is the only animal which finds mention in road safety terms across the world. For children, learning about the ‘zebra’ crossing is perhaps the most common way to get introduced to this white and black striped animal resembling a horse.

According to a Namibian folk tale, the zebra was all white. One day it got into a fight with a baboon over who gets to drink from a waterhole. After kicking the baboon, the zebra lost its balance and fell into a fire. And, that’s how the zebra got its black stripes.

Read on to know more interesting zebra facts like the different types of zebra, their diet, habitat, physical characteristics, social behaviour and life span.

Facts about the zebra family

  • Zebras are medium-sized, single-hoofed animals (odd-toed ungulates) belonging to the horse family Equidae.
  • All zebras have short fur with black and white stripes. While the main body has longitudinal (almost vertical) stripes, the legs have a horizontal pattern.
  • Zebras are social animals which move around in herds and graze together. They usually live in an area where there is a waterhole nearby.
  • Male zebras are called stallions and the females are called mares. Young zebras are called foals.

Types of zebras

The three main species of zebras are the Grévy's zebra, plains zebra and the mountain zebra.

1. Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)

  • The Grévy's zebra, also known as the imperial zebra, is the largest living equid in the wild.
  • This zebra usually lives in the semi-arid grasslands of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia where it feeds on grass and legumes.
  • The Grévy's zebra is the tallest among the three species of zebra with a height of 5 feet from shoulder to hoof. It is about 8 to 10 feet in length and weighs between 350 and 450kg.
  • The male Grévy's zebra is larger than the female in size.
  • The Grévy's zebra has a long head and neck, large conical ears and thin stripes. It has a bristly mane running all the way from the top of its head down to its back. This species has the thinnest stripes of all the three zebra species and a pure white belly without any markings.

2. Mountain zebra (Equus zebra)

  • The mountain zebra is native to south-western Angola, South Africa and Namibia. It prefers a hot, dry and rocky mountainous habitat but is also found in open grasslands and wooded areas.
  • The mountain zebra can weigh anywhere between 210 and 375kg and measure about 7 to 8.5 feet in length from head to tail. Its height ranges from 3 feet 10 inches to 4 feet 11 inches at the shoulder.
  • The mountain zebra has a dewlap (a longitudinal flap of skin that hangs beneath the jaw or neck) and a belly devoid of any stripes, both of which help to distinguish it from the other zebra species.
  • The mountain zebra’s hooves are very hard and pointed compared to other zebras and horses. This also makes it a good climber.

The following are the two subspecies of the mountain zebra.

a) Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae)

b) Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra)

3. Plains zebra (Equus quagga)

  • The plains zebra is also known as the common zebra. It outnumbers the other two species of zebras.
  • The plains zebra inhabits the grasslands and woodlands of eastern and southern Africa.
  • The adult plains zebra stands about 4.6 feet high at the shoulder, is approximately 8 feet long and weighs about 295kg.
  • This species is generally smaller in size than the mountain zebra and the Grevy’s zebra. The plains zebra has a thick-set body with comparatively short legs.
  • The distinguishing feature from other species is the presence of shadow stripes between the black stripes and the stripes extending to the center of the belly.
  • The plain zebra is known to travel great distances (almost 1000km) to be near water and food for their survival.

The following are the subspecies of the plains zebra:

  1. Quagga (Equus quagga quagga; extinct)
  2. Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii)
  3. Grant's zebra (Equus quagga boehmi)
  4. Maneless zebra (Equus quagga borensis)
  5. Chapman's zebra (Equus quagga chapmani)
  6. Crawshay's zebra (Equus quagga crawshaii)
  7. Selous' zebra (Equus quagga selousi)

Physical features of the zebra

  • Size and weight: The largest species of zebra can weigh between 350 and 450kg and stand 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Their length can measure up to 8 feet from head to tail. The smallest of the species can weigh between 230 and 260kg.
  • Eyesight: Zebras have very sharp eyesight as their large eyes are set far back on their head. This gives them a wide field of vision. It also gives zebras the ability to detect movement from great distances and thus become aware of threats in advance.
  • Hearing: With an acute sense of hearing, zebras can pick up sounds from a considerable distance.
  • Teeth: The teeth of all the zebra species are adapted for grazing. Zebras possess strong upper and lower incisors to clip vegetation, and large high-crowned molars covered with thick enamel for grinding and chewing tough abrasive grass.
  • Legs: Zebras have long, slender legs and hoofed feet. The legs are adapted for running fast to escape from fast moving predators. They can run at a speed of up to 56km/h and can also land a powerful kick with their legs.

Interesting facts about zebra stripes

Interesting Facts About Zebras For Kids

  • Social identifier: The stripes of each zebra is different from the others, similar to the human fingerprint. Scientists believe the unique patterns help the species quickly identify members of their own herd. The young foal tracks its mother by identifying the pattern on its rump. These stripes also help scientists in identifying an individual zebra from a herd and keep track of it over a long time.
  • Camouflage: The wavy pattern of the zebra stripe can help it remain inconspicuous among the wavy lines of the grass surrounding it, confusing predators such as the lion which is colourblind.
  • Illusion: The stripes on the zebra probably cause an illusory effect which makes it hard for predators to target a single individual in a stampeding herd.
  • Cooling effect: Scientists believe the black stripes on the zebra’s skin absorbs more heat. This causes small air currents to form in between the stripes helping the zebra to cool down in hot weather.
  • Repellent: The black and white stripes of the zebra probably play a role in preventing insect bites. In a 2014 study titled, ‘The function of zebra stripes’, it was found that tsetse flies, stomoxys stable flies and tabanid biting flies are less likely to land on black and white-striped surfaces.

Habitat of the zebra

  • Native to the central and southern parts of Africa, the zebra’s natural habitat can vary from the woodlands, savannahs and coastal hills to the arid grasslands and subdeserts of Africa.
  • The Grevy’s zebra and the plains zebra have a similar habitat. The plains zebra can be found in the plains and savannahs south of Sudan, extending all the way to Zimbabwe. While the plains zebra likes to live near water sources, the Grevy’s zebra can survive in drier areas called scrublands.
  • Only the mountain zebra lives in the hilly or mountainous regions at an elevation of upto 4,400m.

Zebra diet / food habits

  • Zebras feed mainly on grass but would also consume bark, roots, fruit and leaves. They need to eat more because of the low nutrient quality of their diet.
  • Zebras eat the river bushwillow, a shrub found in the savannahs, the okra fruit and the leaves from trees like acacia, baobab and the jackalberry.
  • In the scrublands, the Grevy’s zebras feed on grass as well as different herbs like rosemary and oregano.
  • Zebras always stay close to a water source as they cannot survive long without water. In the dry season when water is scarce, the plains zebras migrate over large distances to follow the rain.

Zebra: social structure and behaviour

Interesting Facts About Zebras For Kids
  • Zebras are social animals that live in herds of either all male, all female or mixed members. A dominant stallion is the leader of the herd. A mixed herd will usually have a single male zebra and up to six mares.
  • The only exception to this herd combination are the adult male Grevy’s zebras. They do not live in herds. They establish a large territory of their own with access to a waterhole and shady spots.
  • While migrating, the herd follows a certain order. The stallions lead or follow the herd to protect the mares and young ones from predators.
  • If a member of the herd is injured, other zebras encircle it to offer protection and try to drive off the attacking lion or hyena.
  • Zebras tend to be more active during the day, grazing and moving around. They are usually quiet during the night, grazing only occasionally and not moving about much.

How do zebras communicate?

  • Zebras communicate with each other through grunting, loud braying, soft snorting, and body language.
  • They tend to groom each other a lot which helps them establish close bonds.
  • Rearing up on the hind legs, tail lashing, jumping or baring of teeth are all part of offensive and defensive behaviour, depending on situations.

Facts about baby zebras

Interesting Facts About Zebras For Kids
  • Newborn baby zebras can stand up six minutes after birth. They can walk after 20 minutes and can start running after approximately an hour.
  • The foals are dependent on the mother for milk until six to eight months of age.
  • Male foals usually stay with the mother for up to three years, whereas females are only dependent on the mother for up to a year and a half.

Zebra conservation status

  • The average lifespan of the zebra ranges from 25 to 30 years in the wild and up to 40 years in captivity.
  • The various threats that zebras face include predators, poaching for meat and skin, reduction in water sources, and habitat loss due to human activity.
  • The population of the plains zebra is estimated to be around 7,50,000 today. The surviving Cape mountain zebras number between 1,200 and 1,500, Hartmann’s mountain zebras 13,000 and Grevy’s zebras 2,500.

Here’s a list of the various zebra species based on their classification in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

  • Extinct: Quagga
  • Endangered: Grevy’s zebra
  • Vulnerable: Mountain zebra
  • Near threatened: Plains zebra

National parks where zebras are found

  • The protected areas for the Grevy’s zebra in Ethiopia include Alledeghi Wildlife Reserve, Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary, Borana Controlled Hunting Area and Chelbi Sanctuary.
  • In Kenya, important protected areas for the Grevy’s zebra include the Buffalo Springs, Samburu and Shaba National Reserves and the wildlife conservancies in Isiolo, Samburu and the Laikipia Plateau.
  • Cape mountain zebras are mainly found in Mountain Zebra National Park, Gamka Mountain Reserve, Karoo National Park and Kamanassie mountains in South Africa.
  • The plains zebras can be found in several protected areas across their range. These include the Serengeti National Park (Tanzania), Tsavo and Masaai Mara (Kenya), Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe), Etosha National Park (Namibia), and Kruger National Park (South Africa).

Movies on zebras

  • Madagascar (2005, 2008 and 2012)
  • Racing Stripes (2005)
  • Khumba (2013)

Fun facts about zebras

  • The name 'zebra' comes from the Old Portuguese word Zevra which means 'wild ass'.
  • No two zebras are alike. They have unique stripes, which are as distinctive as human fingerprints.
  • A zebra's night vision is thought to be almost as good as an owl’s!
  • Zebras usually sleep standing up.
  • A group of zebras is called a ‘zeal’ or ‘dazzle’.
  • The zebra is known as ‘Punda Milia’ in the Swahili language.
  • The Grévy’s zebra is named after Jules Grévy, president of France (in 1882) who received a zebra as a present from the Emperor of Abyssinia.
  • Zebra is the national animal of Botswana and is represented on the Botswana Coat of Arms.

We hope our article on interesting zebra facts sparks your child’s imagination and encourages him to learn more about wildlife and nature. As parents, spreading knowledge about the world’s precious and threatened animals can surely instill the need for nature conservation in your children as they grow up.

If you found this article to be useful and informative, why not share it with your family and friends? Also leave us your valuable comments.

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About the author:

Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 24 December 2019

The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.

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