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The zebra is a member of the Equidae family, also known as the horse family. There are three species of zebras living in Africa. The Burchell's (plains) zebra is the most common species and can be found in East Africa. The Grevy's zebra is found mostly in northern Kenya and the mountain zebra can be found living in southern and southwestern Africa. Stripes differ, from narrow to wide, depending on the species. Although each species has its own general pattern, no two patterns are exact. Below are more zebra fun facts.
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Zebras have horse-like bodies and are black with white stripes. Shoulder height is 3 1/2 to 5 feet, length is 7 to 9 feet and weight is 440 to 990 pounds. The Grevy's zebra is the largest.
There are a few theories to why zebras have stripes:
- Protection from predators. When running as a herd, the stripes are believed to confuse the predator by creating an "optical illusion", making the zebras appear closer than what they are. This causes the predator to leap too soon when trying to attack. It is also believed that the stripes have a camouflage effect from a far distance when the light is low because the colors blend, making the herd appear gray.
- Social benefits. According to studies, zebras with more stripes are more sociable.
- Thermoregulation. The differences in cooling the two extreme colors is believed to create a rotary breeze.
- Pest control. According to one study, the tsetse fly (an African bloodsucking fly that carries a parasite which can be deadly) prefers solid versus striped objects.
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Zebras are social creatures and can be seen grooming each other, pulling out loose hair and giving a good scratch. They live in herds, made up of one male, several females and their offspring. The male will stay at the back of the herd to fight off predators so the females and offspring can run away. In short bursts, a zebra can run up to 40 mph. These wonderful animals communicate with one another with sounds and facial expressions. They sleep standing up, prepared to run when a zebra who remains awake within the herd warns them of danger by making a loud barking sound.
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Zebras are herbivorous (feeds only on plants) and are the only grazers to have upper and lower incisors. They mostly eat a variety of grasses but will also eat leaves, twigs and bark. They graze for hours, which wears their teeth down. Their teeth do grow back.
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Mating season is year round. The gestation period lasts 12 to 14 months. The mother normally gives birth to one baby; twins are extremely rare. Babies are brown with white stripes and weigh 55 to 88 pounds at birth. They can start walking 20 minutes after being born, and run after an hour. For the first two to three days, the mother will keep all other zebras away from her and the baby so the baby can recognize her by smell, sight and voice.
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Predators include mostly lions and hyenas. Leopards, cheetahs and hunting dogs are other threats. If a zebra is injured, the other zebras in the herd will often encircle him to drive off the predator or protect him from further attack.
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Today, there are roughly 750,000 Burchell's zebras, 2,500 Grevy's zebras and 1,400 to 2,000 mountain zebras. The Burchell's zebras numbers have declined but they are not considered endangered. The Grevy's and mountain zebras are endangered. Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to zebras. They are also hunted by humans for their skin.
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The following are more zebra fun facts:
- Zebras have excellent hearing and eyesight. Their eyesight at night is believed to be as good as that of an owl or cat.
- To clean themselves, they will take mud or dust baths.
- They are attracted to black and white stripes. They are known to go stand next to a wall painted with these colored stripes.
- Zebras live about 25 years in the wild and 40 years in captivity.
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African Wildlife Foundation: http://www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/zebra
San Diego Zoo: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-zebra.html
Defenders of Wildlife: http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/zebra.php
Animal Diversity Web: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Equus_burchellii.html
Global Animal: http://www.globalanimal.org/2010/10/09/striped-yes-but-are-they-really-black-and-white/7154/