Zebras are famous for their eye-catching black and white striped coats and are part of the Equidae family, including horses.
Zebras, alongside horses and asses, are the only surviving members of the family Equidae. All of them belong to the genus Equus.
The patterns of zebra stripes vary, making each one of a kind.
Although many do not realize this, zebras have black skin; the stripes that cover their skin are white.
While some may believe the lines are a camouflage against predators, they repel flies.
Zebras are gregarious creatures that move over the savanna in groups to avoid predators.
They are also often kind to humans when they come into contact with them.
Depending on the species, zebras are classified by the IUCN as endangered, vulnerable, or near-threatened.
There are currently three existing species of zebras, all of which can be found in some parts of Africa.
This article covers these three species and their subspecies, if any.
1. The Plains Zebra
The plains zebra is called the common zebra because it is the most common and most geographically widespread species.
Its fragmented range spans much of southern and eastern Africa south of the Sahara.
The plains zebra is still widespread in game reserves, even though it is endangered by human activities.
These include hunting for its meat and hide and farming encroachment on most of its habitat.
As of 2016, the IUCN has classified the plains zebra as a near-threatened species.
There are several subspecies of the plains zebra, around six or seven, one of which went extinct in the 19th century.
Plains zebras are boldly striped in black and white, like all zebras, and no two are alike.
Although the stripes of the plains zebra are wider than those of other species, they are vertical on the foreparts of the body and lean more horizontally on the hindquarters.
Males weigh 485 to 710 pounds, while females weigh between 386 and 551 pounds.
The shoulder height of this species ranges between 3.5 to almost five feet, making it the smallest of the three species.
However, the average size of a plains zebra depends on its access to food.
Plains zebras primarily consume grass and are equipped to graze on newly sprung short grass and long, thick grass stems.
As a highly social species, plains zebras establish harems with a single stallion (adult male zebra), and a number of these groups can combine to form a herd.
Excluding the fulfillment of their social construct, plains zebras form herds to fight off their predators.
The six subspecies appear to prefer savannas, open grasslands, and similar habitats over deep woods, deserts, and wetland regions.
2. The Grévy’s Zebra
Named after Jules Grévy, former president of France, Grévy’s zebra species is also known as the imperial zebra.
With the scientific name Equus grevyi, this is the largest wild equine still alive and the most endangered of the three zebra species.
This species is found in parts of Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
When compared to other zebra species, this species looks more like a combination of a horse and a donkey (a mule).
There are several other notable differences between this zebra and the other species.
As mentioned, the Grévy’s zebra is the largest wild-living equine; it has a full body length between 8.2 and 9 feet and a shoulder height of 4.8 to 5.2 feet.
This species also weighs between 770 and 1,000 pounds, depending on access to food.
Grévy’s zebras have the tightest stripes of any zebra species and larger, more mule-like ears in comparison to other zebra species.
Their snouts are also more narrow, and their manes are noticeably upright.
They have large heads, pronounced nostril openings, a grayish muzzle, and lips with whiskers.
The social interactions of Grévy’s zebras appear to be more flexible than those of other zebra species, which often form stable herds.
However, it is not uncommon for reproductively mature males to create separate territories, marking said territories with dung piles that contain pheromones.
This species’ present home range includes central and northern Kenya, as well as northeastern and southern areas of Ethiopia.
They can typically be found in dry, semi-desert grasslands throughout this range.
3. The Mountain Zebra
The mountain zebra (Equus zebra) is a zebra species native to southwestern Africa.
The easiest way to recognize mountain zebras is by their stripe patterns.
Like other zebras, they have black and white stripes all over their bodies, but these stripes do not extend to their stomachs.
The mountain zebra has a body length of roughly 7.3 feet, stands between 4 and 4.5 feet tall, and weighs between 573 and 815 pounds.
Like other zebra species, this species is herbivorous and feeds on grass, leaves, roots, fruits, etc.
Under this species, there are two recognized subspecies;
Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
Parts of Angola and Namibia are home to a subspecies of the mountain zebra called Hartmann’s mountain zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae).
The only noticeable variation between the sexes of this subspecies is that males weigh an average of 656 pounds, as opposed to females’ roughly 600 pounds.
They also have skin hanging from their throats, white bellies, and stripes all the way down to their hooves.
Their stripes are also broad and they have an off-white color beneath them.
Also, Hartmann’s mountain zebras favor living in small groups of three to 12 individuals.
They can survive in dry regions and rugged alpine terrain because they are skilled climbers.
Cape Mountain Zebra
The Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) lives in some mountainous areas of South Africa’s Western and Eastern Cape provinces.
It is the smallest and most geographically isolated of all the extant zebra species.
Although the population was previously on the verge of extinction, it has since grown due to various conservation measures, and they are now listed by the IUCN as “vulnerable.”
Based on taxonomic data, the Cape mountain zebra was originally thought to be a distinct species from Hartmann’s mountain zebra.
However, more recent genomic research has caused the two populations to be reclassified as mountain zebra subspecies.
The Cape mountain zebra is slightly different from Hartmann’s subspecies in that it is stockier, has longer ears, and a bigger dewlap.
These are the least heavily built subspecies of zebra, with adults standing between 116 and 128 cm tall at the shoulder.
This subspecies is affected by a certain level of sexual dimorphism, with mares measuring about 515 pounds and stallions weighing between 552 and 573 pounds.
Like other mountain zebras, its stripes end right before its belly.
The stripes of the Cape subspecies, though a little wider than those of the Hartmann’s subspecies are smaller and more frequent than those of the other two zebra species.
Although they are very selective feeders, this subspecies primarily eats grass.
They are most active during the day, and like Hartmann’s subspecies, they prefer to live on mountain slopes and plateaus, and in the summer, they can be found up to 2000 meters above sea level.
In the winter, they descend to lower altitudes.
4. The Somali Wild Ass
Although not a zebra species, the Somali wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis) is a close relative of zebras and a subspecies of the African wild ass.
Less than 1,000 animals are believed to remain in dispersed herds of the Somali wild ass, one of the rarest wild equids in the world.
These animals can be found in the Horn of Africa and are native to the rocky deserts of eastern Africa.
These animals are stocky, with huge ears edged with black hair and a large head.
Their manes are stiff, with erect hair that is black at the tips.
Reaching the bottom of their bodies and down their legs, their short, gray coat gradually turns white.
The black horizontal stripes that they have on their legs are what make them stand out the most.
They have a black stripe running down their back, and the tip of their tail is also covered with black hair.
Somali wild asses can move with confidence in their rocky surroundings thanks to their long and narrow hooves.
The Somali wild ass has short, thin hooves that let it walk swiftly and safely across its stony habitat.
It is the smallest of the equids and the only ass with striped legs.
Asses in the wild are all herbivores and graze on grasses for much of the day in addition to eating brush, bark, and hardy desert plants.
Somali wild asses are members of a fission-fusion society because of the scarcity of resources in their habitat.
The majority of adults live alone, although, occasionally, small herds are formed when they find an area with a lot of resources or during the rainy season.
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