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Kenyan Safari: Zebra, the pioneers of Migration

There are three species of Zebra occurring in Africa today. Two of them are found in East Africa. Burchell’s Zebra (also known as Common or Plains Zebra) is the most widespread in East Africa occurring mainly on the lower part of Equator. The other one is Grevy’s Zebra (named for Jules Grevy, a president of France in the 1880s who received one from Abyssinia as a gif). It is the most common in the northern Kenya on the upper side of Equator. The third species, Equus zebra, is the mountain zebra, found in southern and southwestern Africa. The Burchell’s (plains) have for along time flagged off one the new seven wonder of the world in Maasi Mara, Kenya ‘The Wildebeest migration’

As one of the great survivors, Zebras have excellent eyesight, a keen sense of smell and are capable of running 40 mph. Every zebra has its own pattern of stripes (which makes it easier for researchers). Zebra belong to the family Equidae, hoofed animals characterized by one toe. This includes all horses and horse-like animals of the world. This single hoof is probably an adaptation for fast motion on hard ground.

The stripes as seen during a Kenya safari help them confuse predators by making it hard for them to single out any one of them while in motion. They also interfere with the depth perception of predators. Although there is no color variation between the sexes, plains zebras do vary in color and pattern across their range. Moving from the north to the south of this specie’s range, there is a tendency for the stripes on the hindquarters to become less well defined. They have long jaws, so that when they are grazing, their eyes are still high enough to watch for predators. With eyes located on the side of their head, zebras have a much wider field of vision. They require constant water supplies and they need to drink every day.

Habitat
Zebras inhabit open, grassy plains or well-grassed woodlands. They can also be found on mountain slopes up to 14,500 feet (4,420 m). Existing wild species include the Asian wild horse, Asian and African wild asses, and zebras (found only in Africa). Species of zebra include the Grevy’s zebra the mountain zebra , the extinct quagga zebra and the plains (Damara or Burchell) zebra named after naturalist W. J. Burchell.

Zebras are extremely social animals that share their range with a wide variety of other grazers and browsers, particularly wildebeest, kongoni, gazelles, Oryx and other antelopes. They live throughout eastern and southern Africa. Their home ranges vary in size from 12-240 square miles (31-622 sq. km).

Plains zebra rely almost totally on a variety of grasses, along with some additional browse like leaves and twigs.

Reproduction

In the nature females reach reproduction maturity in 2-4 years. Males are able to compete for mares after they reach about 4 years of age. When gathering females for breeding, rival stallions compete fiercely by kicking and biting. Once a male establishes a harem, ownership of that harem is rarely disputed, unless he is unfit. The gestation period of a zebra is about 12 months. Since a mare may come into estrus within days of giving birth, she can conceive almost yearly.

The female gives birth to usually one foal, as twins are rare. At birth, a foal weighs about 70 pounds (32 kg), can stand almost immediately and run within a day. Although a foal may graze within a week of birth, they continue to suckle for up to 16 months. The average juvenile mortality is about 50%, mostly due to predation by lions and spotted hyena.

Life Cycle
Plains zebra are social animals. Although they may live alone, they usually form bachelor groups and small families of 5-20 animals, consisting of a dominant male, mares and offspring. These zebras can either be sedentary or migratory; their lifestyle is dependent on the availability of food. Where food is mostly plentiful year-round, such as the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, they lead a sedentary life. In seasonally dry areas like the Serengeti of Tanzania, small families of plains zebra gather to form large herds that migrate in search of food. Staying together as a family group within large herds, they migrate up to 500 miles (805 km) per year during their circular trek to and from the Serengeti Plains. Of interest, it is the responsibility of an adult male (often the oldest), to guide the family as they move from area to area and ensure that they never wander too far from water.

Plains zebra are noisy and restless animals, probably because of predators. They have a distinctive call, which may be described as a frequently repeated barking whinny. Their whinny is more similar to a donkey whinny than a horse whinny. At night, families gather together while one family member remains awake to look out for predators.

Special note on Grevy’s Zebra

The social organization of the Grevy‘s zebra is very different to that of the Burchell‘s. Grevy‘s follow a territorial system which is adapted to arid environments where resources are patchily distributed. Breeding males stake out territories of between 7-12 square kilometers, containing water and grazing resources which they will defend for up to seven years. As non-lactating females range widely in search of those resources, the male is able to mate with these females as they pass through his territory.

The population of Grevy’s zebra has declined a lot and in some area including Ethiopia and Somalia they cannot be found. This is through poaching for their skin and meat till 1977 and overgrazing. Another issue is that only 0.5% of their range is protected. Of the world population (less than 2,300) over 20 % are found on Lewa, Kenya. This is because Lewa is a protected range and there is no competition from grazing.

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