The dark side of a Zebra

The dark side of a Zebra

Sara • 11/15/2023


A Zebra is one of the most iconic mammals in Africa, as it looks rather pretty and is like a frolicking wild horse to most. However, Zebras certainly don’t act as gentile as they look!

Why they have such start colours is a mystery! One theory is that they have the stripes not to hide from sight but to dazzle the predators with so many stripes that it confuses the predator and makes it more difficult to pick out and individual. This is supported by the fact that a newborn baby is born with extra long legs so that its tummy lines up with the adults – again allowing it to disappear into a kaleidoscope of stripes.

The second theory is to ward off insects like the tsetse fly, which is confused by the polarising effect of the white. The third theory (which is not Richard’s favourite) is that it’s thought the stripes would assist in cooling the zebra off as the black stripes would get hot and cause an updraft of air and the cooler white stripe would have a down draft casing mini rotations of air around the zebra, thus keeping it cool. 

Now the darkest side of zebra’s is not its black stripes BUT its social structure. Zebra are grouped into harems where there is one dominant male with as many as 6 females and foals in the group. All younger males with no harem will form bachelor herds and wait till they are big enough to start their own harem.

Zebra stallions will fight with each other for females and will even go as far as stealing females from one another. If the female stolen is pregnant, the new male will rape her until such time as she has lost the pregnancy. Miscarriage would be done by releasing hormones that would cause her body to reabsorb the foetus or miscarry or if she gave birth to a live foal it would be kicked to death by the male. This seems extreme but it ensures that the strongest genetics survive and the killing of another males young is not uncommon practice in the animal kingdom and it’s called infanticide. 

The fights between males are often very violent and can end up in death. The males will attempt to bite the others neck and legs and fights can last for long periods of time. Eventually when one of the males is exhausted and falls to the ground the other male might kick its competitor to death. Just a few days ago we witnessed a fight but fortunately it was more a play fight than a full on fight to the death.

Two males were testing each other, practising their technique and establishing a hierarchy that would stand for a while to come. The establishment of these hierarchies is important so that all the males fight within their class and avoid being killed by a much stronger competitor. The thing we love most about nature is that it is not just black and white but has such depth behind such a simple appearance.