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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A Tower of Giraffes

Creature Feature, Keeper Chats, Ungulates

Last year Wildlife Safari added another member to our group of giraffes (called a tower). Erin has joined our other two giraffes, Miya (4 years old) and Mate (17 years old), and is getting along great! A very curious and adventurous young female, Erin (2 years old) is often the first to greet keepers.

Erin and Miya, our females, are both Reticulated giraffes, and Mate, our resident male, is a Rothschild giraffe – much darker in color.

Miya, Mate and Erin, Wildlife Safari’s three resident giraffes – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erica Sherrow, Giraffe Keeper and one of their primary trainers, says they all have their distinct personalities and are loveable in their own ways.

Erin and Miya trying for some keeper attention (or some snacks...) - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya trying for some keeper attention (or some snacks…) – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya get along great, as seen by their snuggle time - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya get along great, as seen by their snuggle time – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes are sometimes called the ‘watchtowers of the Serengeti’, since their height lets them be the first to spot danger and alert any other animals nearby. If they start running, so do any other animals nearby, even if they can’t yet see the danger – no one wants to wait to find out if there really is a lion nearby or not!

Giraffes going for a stroll - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes going for a stroll – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes have no vocalization that is audible to humans, they use body language to communicate. Keepers enjoy their expressions when working with them. “They give a lot of sass,” says Sherrow.

During the winter, the giraffes spend more time inside their heated barn. Giraffes are built to live in hot environments, so if it gets below 50 degrees they stay close to their barn.

Our giraffe keepers do training sessions just like with many of our other animals. The giraffes are trained to do some behaviors that make it a little easier to look after them. For example, presenting their feet for checks, or going into their barn and over to the scaffolding that allows keepers to stand at eye level with their tall, spotted friends. This training is mostly to get them used to being handled so that veterinary procedures, checkups and hoof trims can be conducted easily and without stress to the animals. Mate is entirely comfortable being worked on and touched, while Miya is a little more wary, and Erin has been making leaps and bounds with her training. “Erin has been moving through our training program like lightening,” says Sherrow. “We’ve already had her in the chute and been able to touch her.” Keepers use a chute that giraffes stand in, with panels that open to allow keepers to reach through and handle where ever needs attention, keeping a barrier between keepers and those long, strong legs.

Numbers in the wild are dwindling. There are about 80,000 giraffes altogether left in the wild, with less than 1,100 Rothschild and 4,700 Retuculated giraffes. “Mostly through habitat fragmentation and poaching,” says Sherrow. “They’re poached for their hide and tails.” Both poaching and habitat fragmentation are serious threats. If their habitat is lost, they end up having nowhere else to go, since the closest habitat for them may be too far away.

Giraffes in their feeder - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes in their feeder – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

They have extremely long tongues (1 inch for every foot they are tall) designed to reach up into branches and grab leaves. These tongues are tough, so they can eat much tougher, spinier foliage than other grazers, including the leaves of the Acacia tree, a spiky plant that is one of their favorites.

For a little while, our Tower had an honorary member, and a stripey one at that! Ruckus, our new Damara zebra took his time finding his way into our zebra herd, choosing instead at first to find some taller friends. He followed the giraffes around for about a week before deciding to join his fellow zebras.

Mate, Miya and Erin with their friend Ruckus the Zebra

Mate, Miya and Erin with their friend Ruckus the Zebra

 

Giraffes with their Zebra friend - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes with their Zebra friend – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow