As their ears rotate completely, Grévy's zebras can hear sounds coming from all directions.
Grévy's zebras, also known as imperial zebras, are beautiful-looking members of the Equidae family (horse family). Though they were nearly hunted to extinction some years ago, efforts are now underway to get their numbers back to normal. The following paragraphs provide some interesting facts about Grévy's zebras.
Stripes and ears of the Grévy's zebra
Grévy's zebras are the biggest of all the zebra species. Unlike the other species that are related to horses, these zebras are related more closely to the wild asses of Africa. They are white with black stripes, the stripes are narrower than all the other species, and they are present in a concentric pattern on the zebras' bodies. However, their bellies and a small patch on their rumps is white. Stripes help the zebras hide from predators by standing motionless among the tall grasses. At dusk, when the predators get out to hunt, the stripes camouflage the zebras well.
Grévy's zebras are about 60 inches tall at the shoulders and the overall height goes up to 7 feet. They weigh between 770 to 1,000 pounds. They have big heads, long necks, and large, rounded ears which they can rotate all around to locate the source of any sound. They have erect manes that run all along their backs. They have good binocular vision and are very sensitive to changes in the quality of their food.
Habitat and Diet
These zebras inhabit the arid grasslands, semi-deserts, and dry savanna of east Africa. They are currently found in northern and central Kenya, and eastern Ethiopia. They were once found in large numbers in Somalia, but have not been sighted there since the 1970s, thus making them regionally extinct.
Herd of Grévy's Zebra
Grévy's zebras love to eat. They spend nearly two-thirds of their day eating. They are herbivores and eat tall grasses in the places they inhabit. During summer, when there is a scarcity of tall grasses, they also eat fruits, bark, and leaves. They have sharp incisors, which they use to clip and grind the hard, tall grasses. They can stay without water for nearly five days at a stretch, but still stay close to water holes because of the foals in the herd.
Grévy's zebra foal
Grévy's zebras breed throughout the year, and from July to October in the migratory areas. Their gestation period is 13 months, after which a single foal is born. The foal weighs about 80-125 pounds, and has dark-brown stripes and a fuzzy coat at birth. The brown stripes turn black when it is a year old. Foals start walking within a few minutes of their birth, and can run within an hour! They stay close to their mothers for nursing and protection from predators for anything between 1 to 3 years. They simultaneously nurse and graze on tall grasses. Adult zebras live up to 20 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.
Female Grévy's zebra with foal
The social behavior of these zebras is different from the other species. Males are solitary and territorial in nature and do not develop lasting bonds. The only bond is between a mother zebra and her foal. Females form herds at times, and they stay together along with their foals. Adult males mark their territories using dung piles called middens. Females only move in these territories to mate. The males do not tolerate another male presence in their area if there is a female in heat, but they may socialize at the boundaries. They can fight over females who pass through during the mating season. Like all animals, male Grévy's zebras also compete for female attention by fighting and braying loudly. Though most males do not leave their prime territories and can remain in the same place year round, some migrate to greener pastures if the summer spells are too long. Male foals leave their mothers between the ages of 1 to 4 and join bachelor groups.
Population and Threats
The last 15 to 20 years has seen a steady decline in the population of the Grévy's zebras. They are now listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List. Human encroachment and hunting has reduced their strength to just 6,000 today, a far cry from the 15,000 that it was in the 1970s. They are poached for their skin, which is sold for an exorbitant price in the western countries. Their water source has diminished greatly, as it is being diverted for irrigation and other human uses. They are also competing for food with domestic livestock raised by humans in their habitat. Apart from humans, their other predators include lions, hyenas, cheetahs, wild dogs, and leopards.
Grévy's zebras were known as hippotigris
(horse-tiger or tiger-horse) in the Roman circus.¤
These animals were named in the honor of Jules Grévy, President of the Third Republic regime of France, because he received the first known species as a gift in 1882.¤
Like human fingerprints, the stripes of zebras are unique to each animal, and no two Grévy's have the same-sized stripe patterns.¤
Zebras are white with black stripes and not the other way round.¤
They bray loudly like donkeys, to communicate with each other.¤
Grévy's zebras are known as Loiborkurum
, which means white-rumped in Samburu, the local language of north central Kenya.¤
A female keeps her foal isolated from the other for 2 to 3 days after birth so that it will recognize her by smell, sound, and even sight, and not confuse her with another zebra.
Conservationists are working steadily towards the rehabilitation of the Grévy's zebras, by coordinating with local communities to address the threats posed to these animals. Captive breeding programs, ecotourism, better anti-poaching policies, and field conservation efforts are definitely helping to increase their population and save these fine-looking animals from extinction.