Africa’s answer to the horse, its iconic stripes make the zebra easy to identify. Black, white and adorable all over, zebras are half horse, half donkey and are easily one of my favorite animals to watch while on safari. But there’s much more to this mesmerizing creature than meets the eye. Here are just a handful of wild-ass facts about one of Africa’s most beloved beasts.
1. Zebras have mad self-protection methods! Vulnerable but powerful, zebras are prey to nearly every four-legged hunter. Lions, hyenas and even Nile crocodiles hunt these beautiful creatures. Because they must be on the defensive constantly, zebras have excellent methods of self-protection. Did you know that zebras sleep while standing up and only in groups? Zebras will also stand side by side while facing opposite directions to keep an eye out for predators.
To warn of impending danger, a zebra will bark or whine loudly if they sense a predator is nearby. They may also use the angle of their ears to communicate with other herd members.
Plains Zebras may use a high-pitched sound to alert the herd of approaching danger. Mountain Zebras may use a snorting sound to warn the herd. And, although not the most social of the species, Grevy’s Zebras will stand together as a group in solidarity when a threat approaches. Zebras will defend their herd, as well as their territory, by kicking, biting and pushing. They will engage in similar behavior when another stallion attempts to take over a herd or to display dominance in mating. If a zebra is attacked, other zebras will come to its defense and form a circle around it to ward off the predator. More commonly, they will run. And guess what?
2. Zebras are fast, y’all! Reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour when galloping across the plains, they are just fast enough to outrun predators.
3. Zebras dazzle their predators! Named for the optical illusion they create when running, a group of zebra is called a ‘dazzle’. Using their stunningly-striped coats as camouflage, zebras will move quickly together, confusing predators as they approach. Interestingly, zebras can recognize each other by their stripes.
4. There are three species of zebra in the wild! Plains, Mountain and Grevy’s comprise the three species of zebra. Plains Zebra are the most common and you will find them throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Less common are the Mountain Zebra and you can find them in large numbers Angola, Namibia and South Africa. The most imperiled zebra is also the most stunning: The Grevy’s Zebra. Hunted extensively and to the brink of extinction for their skins, sadly the Grevy’s Zebra has suffered a dramatic decline in numbers, with only an estimated 3,000 individuals remaining in the wild.
5. Zebras are black! It’s an age-old question: Are zebras white with black stripes are or they black with white stripes? Originally, researchers believed the former to be true, but cutting-edge genetic research has finally laid the question to rest: Zebras are, indeed, black animals with white stripes.