So which is it? Is a zebra black or white? While there are plenty of conflicting theories on this matter, the generally agreed-upon consensus is that this native African animal is black with white stripes. This is consistent with the theory of pigment activation and inhibition. Zebras’ actual skin is black, with its black fur coat produced by pigment activation, and the white patches on its back are areas that lack pigmentation (inhibition).
You may not know this already but zebras are speed demons, and they have to be! With predators watching their every move, a zebra’s ability to outrun its predators can make the difference between life and death. Zebras can run as fast as 40 mph or 65 km/h, which is fast enough to outpace lions. They also run in a zig-zag pattern when being chased by a predator to throw their hunters off. Foals (baby zebras) are fast learners too – they begin walking 20 minutes after they are born and running after about an hour later!
The stripes on each zebra back are not coincidental nor are they random. It is believed that no two striped zebras are the same and that the stripes on each zebra’s back are unique. Foals use these unique stripes to identify their mother in addition to their scent and call.
While it is generally thought that zebra’s stripes are used as camouflage to protect them from predators, recent researchers have shown that their stripes have evolved to also keep biting insects – especially the horsefly – away. It is believed that black and white stripes are unattractive to horseflies that are attracted to linearly polarized light.
Their stripes are also used to cool their body temperature, which is thought to disperse more than 70 percent of incoming heat.
All three known zebra species are found in Africa, with the most numerous populations being the plains zebra. Grevy’s zebra are found in northern Kenya while the Equus zebra – or mountain zebra – can be found in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. While the plains zebra are considered among the least endangered animals, the remainder two zebra species are endangered species. There are only approximated 2,700 mountain zebras left and only 2,000 Grevy’s zebras left in the wild. This is a stark decline in comparison to the plains zebras’ numbers at about 750,000 individuals.
Habitat loss is the zebra’s biggest threat, with their available habitat being used for ranching and farming. Zebras are also hunted for their skin and occasionally for food and medicine. The young of a Grevy’s zebra also has a low survival rate with the lack of forage and water.
Each year, millions of plains zebras along with gazelles and wildebeest make the annual 1,800-mile migration between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya to search for food and better source of water. This migration cycle takes a full year to complete and is a great sight to experience!
Zebras also participate in other migration journeys, as researchers have recently discovered. Among these are the migration routes discovered in Botswana, where plains zebras travel over 1,000km to the Nxai Pan National Park each year. The Nxai Pan migration covers the longest distance, even longer than the Serengeti migration. The discovery of the migration is fairly recent due to the fact that zebra wasn’t thought to be able to travel such long distances.
Sharp Hearing & Great Eyesight
A zebra’s eyesight is superb – having great vision both in the day and night, although its night vision is not as advanced as its predators. The zebra’s eyes are located on the sides of its head, allowing it to receive a wide field of view. A zebra is also believed to be able to see in color, making it one of the very few animals aside from humans who have this ability.
Coupled with its stellar eyesight, zebras also have excellent hearing. Their ears are able to rotate in all directions, which they use to communicate their mood to other zebras.
Catch a glimpse of the zebra and many other species during the Great Migration when you go embark on a safari in Serengeti National Park!