Are zebras white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?

Creature Feature, Ungulates

Among the Herd

As you enter the park, you are immersed into the world of North Africa where you are sure to encounter Eland, Watusi, an Ostrich, Hippos and Zebra. As you come to the first peak of your drive, looking to your left off in the distance, you will commonly see a picturesque view of the white and black striped stature of the Zebra watching the world go by or grazing on the grassy hills. While the zebra may seem a little shy to park goers, they are in fact social animals when it comes to their own kind. Our herd is made up of both males and females who are likely to be seen within close range of one another. A behavior common among many herd animals. To an untrained eye it is difficult to differentiate an individual among the herd. However, the zebra’s stripe patterns are unique to specific individuals, much like that of our own fingerprints. This allows us as keepers to identify each of the herd members. For the zebras, the stripes serve as an evolutionary protection mechanism. When clumped into a herd it becomes difficult for their predators to target a specific zebra and therefore increasing the likelihood of survival.

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The great debate

Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes? Upon close inspection, it is most likely the latter. This determination comes from the fact that the black striping typically comes to an end along the back of their legs and their underbellies, which are solid white.

Another striking feature of the zebra is the tall stiff mane that runs from the top of the head and along the back of their neck. A layer of fat beneath the mane is what allows the hair to stand straight and stiff. It is thought that the mane serves as an added protective layer for the neck.

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The Species

Zebras are classified as equids which also includes the horse and donkey. Not all zebras are genetically the same and within the species there are 3 subspecies. These include the Grévy’s zebra, the mountain zebra, and the plains zebra also known as the common zebra. The Zebra who wonder among the safari’s hills are of the Plains subspecies.

Like other species of the equis family, zebra use vocalizations to communicate with one another. Some of these sounds include snorting, braying, nickering and barking or yipping, the last being unique to the zebra. The barking or yipping is thought to be used to find or call out to one another, while the nickering is commonly a greeting reserved for familiar individuals. Some sounds can have multiple meanings and in order to determine these meanings one must also consider the body language being presented with the sound. Important body language to watch for includes ear position, head angle and how wide their eyes are.

 

Conservation

The Plains zebra population is on the decline and they are classified as near threatened according to the IUCN Red list. This list indicates the endangerment status of all species. Some of the major threats to the zebra come in the form of habitat loss, competition with agricultural livestock, and poaching. As the human population continues to expand, so does our land use, causing us to continually encroach on the zebra’s habitat. The beauty of the iconic striped coat also threatens the species because it unfortunately makes them a target for poachers who will then profit from the sale of the well-known hide.

We continually strive to encourage conservation efforts being made for a vast array of species. We do so by bringing awareness to the threats and challenges that affect the beautiful and majestic creatures that we share this earth with.

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