Did you know that when a herd of zebra merge together their stripes make it almost impossible for predators to single out an individual animal? And that a zebra’s stripes are not unlike the identifying fingerprints of humans in that they are totally unique to each animal?
As tens of thousands of zebras are at this very moment migrating between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara in one of the most extraordinary spectacles of the natural world, we thought that it was high time to feature this elegant animal.
Zebras have attracted man’s fascination for centuries. Mostly because of their intricate and distinctly patterned black and white stripes. In some cultures, the zebra’s stripes are a symbol of harmony and balance such as in Native American shamanism. The zebra is closely related to donkeys and horses, and there are three species of zebra: Gevy’s, mountain and plains zebra, and of the three the latter is by far the most commonly found all over Africa.
Interestingly enough the zebra’s stripy coat also prevents the animal from overheating in the extreme African temperatures by acting as a sunscreen and dispersing more than 70 per cent of the heat. It even aids as a form of camouflage in the long grass by distracting predators. Recent research has found that a zebra’s stripy coat may, in fact, have evolved to keep insects away! The black and white pattern seems to disrupt the fly’s visual systems, and even bloodsucking horseflies are less attracted to their funky coat.
Another lesser known fact about this stylish animal is that zebras are remarkably fast-moving and can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour when being chased across the plains by predators. They have excellent stamina and combine this with their fast running, as well as zig-zagging motions to dodge predators. Newborn foals even have the ability to run with the herd just a few hours after birth.
They are also incredibly social animals, will groom one another and prefer to graze close together. They form close-knit family groups (usually with six breeding females and one dominant male) and look after other herd members. If a member of their group is injured or attacked, they will attempt to drive the predator away. Like other hoofed animals, they sleep standing up in the safety of a group and will often join other grazers such as wildebeest to form large herds. A large herd provides more eyes and ears if danger approaches and also confuses the predator and makes it harder to single out an individual animal.
Zebras use various vocal sounds and will bray, snort, balk or huff to communicate with one another. They also communicate by altering the position of their tail and ears. They can swivel their ears in nearly all directions to communicate their mood. Flattened ears, for example, means trouble, but erect ears will signal that the animal is calm and content.
To experience these incredible creatures (as well as wildebeest and other antelope) up-close we highly recommend experiencing the annual 1800 mile migration through the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya as they roam in search of sweeter grass and water.