News Karnataka
Tuesday, January 31 2023

Zebra, the most recognisable mammals

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Photo Credit : Pixabay

Zebras are the special animals, which attract everyone. With their white and black stripes, they stand as sign of beauty among other animals. Zebras are African mammals with distinctive black and white striped coats. There are three living species: The Grevey’s zebra, Plains zebra and the Mountain zebra. They are the living members of the family Equidae. Zebras are closely related to domestic horses. They are large single hoofed mammals built for speed and long-distance migrations. Zebra stripes come in different patterns, unique to each individual.

All zebras are dark-skinned animals. Hairs that contain melanin appear black, whereas those without melanin appear white. Zebra has barrel-chested bodies with tufted tails, elongated faces and long necks with long, erect manes. Their thin legs supported by a spade-shaped toe covered in a hard hoof. Their dentition is adapted for grazing. Males have spade-shaped canines, which can be used as weapons in fighting. The eyes of zebras are at the sides and far up the head, which allows them to look over all the tall grass while feeding. Their moderately long, erect ears are movable and can locate the source of a sound. In contrast to other living mammals, Zebra has longer front legs than back legs.

Zebras inhabit eastern and southern Africa and can be found in a variety of habitats such as savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, shrublands, and mountainous areas. Zebras may travel or migrate to wetter areas during the dry season. Plains zebras have been recorded travelling 500km b/w Namibia and Botswana, the longest land migration of mammals in Africa. Plains zebras are more water-dependent and live in more moisturous environment compared to other species. They usually can be found within 10-12 km from a water source.

Grevey’s zebras live in semi-arid grassland habitat in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Mountain zebras, as their name implies, in habitat rocky, arid slopes in Namibia and Angola. Plains zebras, which are the most abundant of the three zebra species, are found from the grasslands of East Africa to the scrubby woodlands of Southern Africa. They are one of Africa’s most successful and adaptable large herbivores.

Plains and Mountain zebras are social herd animals, living in family groups with a stallion, several mares, and their offspring. During certain times of the year, these groups gather together to form loosely associated herds of up to several hundred, but the family groups still stay together within these larger groups. Grevey’s zebras do not have a herd system, and males and females have no permanent bonds.

Among plains and mountain zebras, the adult females mate only with their harem stallion, while in Grevey’s zebras, mating is more promiscuous and the males have larger testes for sperm competition. Female zebras have five to ten day long oestrous cycles. On reaching peak oestrous, mares spread-out their legs, lift their tails and open their mouths when in the presence of a male. Males assess the female’s reproductive state with a curled lip and bared teeth and female will solicit mating by backing in.

Gestation is typically around a year. Usually a single foal is born, which is capable of running within an hour of birth. A new born zebra will follow anything that moves. So new mothers prevent other mares from approaching their foals as they become more familiar with the mothers striping pattern, smell and voice. At a few weeks old. Foals begin to graze, but may continue to nurse for eight to thirteen months. Living in an arid environment, Grevey’s zebras have longer nursed intervals and young only begin to drink water three months after birth.

In plains and mountain zebras, foals are cared by their mothers, but if threatened by pack-hunting hyenas and dogs, the entire group works together to protect all the young.

With their distinctive black and white stripes, zebras are among the most recognisable mammals. They have been associated with beauty and grace.

• For people of the African diaspora, the zebra represented the politics of race and identity, being both black and white

• Zebras have been popular in photography, with some wildlife photographers describing them as the most photogenic animal

• They have become staples in children’s stories and wildlife-themed art, in children’s alphabet books, the animals are often used to represent the letter ‘Z’

• Zebra stripes are also popularly used for body paintings, dress, furniture and architecture

• Zebras have been featured in African art and culture. They are depicted in rock art in Southern Africa

• The Masai proverb “a man without culture is like a zebra without stripes” has become popular in Africa

• The San people connected zebra stripes with water, rain and lighting and water spirits were conceived of having zebra stripes

• The plain zebra is the national animal of Botswana and zebras have been depicted on stamps during colonial and post-colonial Africa

• The comic book character “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,” is depicted riding zebra and explorer Ossa Johnson was photographed riding one

• Zebras have been featured as characters in animated films like Khumba, The Lion King and television series such as Zou

All three zebra species have decreased in abundance through human activities and the Mountain zebras were listed as an endangered species during the 1990s and early 2000s. However after subsequent population increased, IUCN reclassified the species as vulnerable in 2008.

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Thilak T. Shetty

The author is a BA Sociology  graduate. He is into poetry and literature. His varied interests include Literature, Music, Culture, Politics, Philosophy And Nationalism studies.

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