Plains Zebra (Equus quagga)

Plains Zebra

Equus quagga (Boddaert, 1785)

Zebra

Photo: Doug Lee

Afrikaans:Vlakte sebra / Bont sebra
German:Steppenzebra
French:Zèbra de Burchell
isiNdebele:Idube elibhondo
isiZulu:Idube
isiXhosa:Iqwarhashe
seSotho:Pitse ya naga
seTswana:Pitse yanaga
Shangaan:Mangwa
Lozi:Pizi

IUCN Conservation Status:

  • Gevy’s zebra, Crawshay’s zebra = Endangered (EN)
  • Wild ass, Selous zebra = Critically Endangered (CR)
  • Grant’s zebra = Lower Risk, conservation dependent (LR/cd)
  • Chapman’s zebra = Lower Risk, least consern (LR/lc)

“Pajama-donky” or “horse in a rugby-jersey”, as it is often refered to by children, and in the early 1800s, zebras were called the wild horses of Africa. Its popular name refers to the animal’s preference to inhabit plains environments. The extinct quagga and the plains zebra were successfully tamed during the 1800s and cross-bred with donkeys. The hybrids were called zeb-donks and were used to pull carts and wagons.

Taxonomy

Classification

Class:MAMMALIA
Supercohort:LAURASIATHERIA
Cohort:FERUNGULATA
Superorder:PARAXONIA
Order:PERRISSODACTYLA
Family:Equidae
Genus:Equus
Species:quagga

The genus includes all zebras, horses and the wild ass, with the following recent species in Africa:

  • Equus africanus, the wild ass of north-eastern Africa
  • E. zebra, the mountain zebra of south-western Africa
  • E. grevyi, Grevy’s zebra from north-eastern Africa
  • E. mauritanicus, the extinct North African zebra of the Sahel
  • E. quagga, the plains zebra with 6 subspecies
  • E.q. boehmi (granti), Grant’s zebra from Central and East Africa
  • E.q. crawshayi, Crawshay’s zebra from East Africa
  • E.q. selousi, Selous zebra from south-eastern Africa
  • E.q. antiquorum (chapmani), Chapman’s zebra from southern Africa
  • E.q. burchelli, the extinct Burchell’s zebra from Namibia, Botswana and the northern Cape, the last member died in 1918
  • E.q. quagga, the extinct Cape quagga from South Africa, the last memder died in 1883

Some confusion might exist in the mind of readers caused by the recent name changes of the zebra species. The mountain zebra, together with the African wild ass evolved from an unidentified ancestor during the early Pleistocene (1-2 million years BP). Thereafter Grevy’s zebra derived from another pre-ancestor Equus capensis during the middle Pleistocene. All of the sub-species of the plains zebra E. quagga, which include the recently extinct quagga and Burchell’s zebra, evolved between 120 000-290 000 years BP and share in a common ancestor E. mauritanicus which was a much larger animal from northern Africa during the late Pleistocene. The plains zebra that are presently introduced, re-introduced, and spread across almost the entire of South Africa is predominantly the Chapman’s zebra E.q. antiquorum, and not the Burchell’s zebra as is still being refered to in the majority of literature and media.

Image gallery

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Evolution

Evolution of the zebra

Description

Descriptive Differences Between The Zebras
Species
Size
Mass/Height At Shoulder
Black Stripes
Dew-Lip
Body
Legs
Belly
Mountain Zebra
Cape:
230-255 kg
125 cm
Hartman:
275>300 kg
150 cm
Narrow stripes, close to each other, end in a horizontal line, two-thirds down the flanks.

No shadow stripes.

Orange-brown shade on the muzzle above the nose.
Full length is covered with horizontal rings all around the legs.
None
20x8 cm
Grevy's Zebra
350-450 kg
145-160 cm (largest)
Narrow stripes, close to each other, end in a horizontal straight line, two-thirds down the flanks.

No shadow stripes.
Full length is covered with horizontal rings all around the legs.
None
15x3 cm
Crawshay's Plains Zebra
280-315 kg
130 cm
Narrow stripes, close to each other, extend down the flanks and all around the belly.

No shadow stripes.
Full length is covered with horizontal rings all around the legs.
Striped
None
Grant's Plains Zebra
280-315 kg
130 cm
Very wide stripes, far apart, extend down the flanks and all around the belly.

No shadow stripes.
Full length is covered with horizontal rings all around the legs.
Striped
None
Selous Plains Zebra
300 kg
150 cm
Very wide stripes, far apart, extend down the flanks and all around the belly.

Shadow stripes on most of the body, except for the neck and face.
Upper half is covered with horizontal stripes that do not go around the legs.

Stripes are faded.
Partly striped
None
Chapman's Plains Zebra
290-340 kg
130-136 cm
Wide stripes, far apart, extend down the flanks and only some of the stripes go around the belly.

Shadow stripes on most of the body except for the neck and face.
Upper half is covered with horizontal stripes that do not go around the legs.

Stripes are faded.
Partly striped
None
Burchell's Plains Zebra
290-340 kg
130-136 cm
Wide stripes, far apart, end halfway down the flanks. Stripes are faded towards their ends.

Shadow stripes on the back and the flanks.

No stripes on the lower half of buttocks and shoulder.
No Stripes
None
None
Quagga
125-135 cm
Very wide stripes, close to each other and end halfway down the flanks. Stripes are faded towards their ends.

Stripes change in colour from black to brown towards the hind quarters.

No shadow stripes and no stripes on lower half of buttocks and shoulder.

Upper parts of the body have a red-brown tone.
No Stripes
None
None

Comparison to man

Wildlife Ranching Plains Zebra comparison to man

Social structure

Plains zebra are migrators by nature, moving between food and water sources and especially between burnt veld. Home ranges are thus large, unstable and temporary. Plains zebra are gregarious forming large herds of multiple closed family groups consisting of 4-12 individuals each. The herds moves through the home range as a temporary unit. In thick woodland or bushveld and on smaller land-units the larger aggregations are lost and the family groups are scattered across the habitat. Family bonding in the family groups are very tight and permanent and follow a strict hierarchy order of dominance. The family structure consists of a dominant stallion (8-12 years), a dominant alpha mare (older than 8 years), 2-3 beta mares (5-8 years), 2-5 chi mares (3-5 years) and several sub-adults (younger than 3 years) of both sexes. Young stallions leave the group at 3 years to join a bachelor group which roam the same home range than the herd. Young mares, 2-3 years, are being lured away by opportunistic non-dominant stallions. Often these associations establish new families. Adult shoulderheight is reached at 3 years and adult bodymass after 5 years.

Distribution

Wildlife Ranching Plains Zebra distribution maps

Diseases

Plains zebra are fairly resistant to most tropical diseases except for horse-sickness that can eliminate entire populations. They tolerate high infections of ticks and are not susceptive to foot-and-mouth disease or to malignant catarrhal fever.

Information Table

 

Chapman's Plains Zebra information table
Characteristic
Stallion
Mare
Adult body weight:
kg
290-340
290-340
Adult shoulder height:
cm
130-138
130-138
Expected longevity
years
22
22
Age of sexual maturity
months
36
16-20
Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
years
5
2-2.5
Gestation
months

12.5
1st foal born at
years

3
Foal interval
months

16
Post maturity age (last mating)
years
12
17
Rutting season
Year round
Foaling season:
Year round
Weaning age months
10
Gender ratio: natural (all ages)
1
1.5
Gender ratio: production (all ages)
1
4
Mating ratio: natural (adults)
1
4
Mating ratio: production (adults)
1
6
Re-establishment: Absolute minimum number needed
1
3
Re-establishment: Smallest viable population size
3
5
Spatial behaviour: home range
ha
10000-26000
7000-26000
Spatial behaviour: territory range
ha
None
None
Large stock grazing unit (adult):
Dietary ratio (grass):             
LSU
0.7 Per animal
(95% of diet) 
0.7 per animal
(95% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult):   
Dietary ratio: (browse):
BU
2.2 per animal
(5% of diet)
2.2 per animal
(5% of diet)
Maximum stocking load
40 animals per 1000 ha (at 450-550 mm annual rainfall)
Minimum habitat size required
ha
800
Annual population growth:
15-29%
Optimal annual rainfall:
450-550 mm
Optimal vegetation structure:
Grass height:
Woody canopy cover:

6-45 cm
20-55%

Bibliography

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  2. Furstenburg, D, 2007. Vlakte sebra. Game & Hunt 13(8).:5-11
  3. IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology), 1998. Equus. In: African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 & 2. European Commission Directorate, Bruxelles.
  4. IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, Gland, Switzerland: http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  5. Joubert, E, 1971. Ecology, behaviour and population dynamics of the Hartmann zebra in South West Africa. D.Sc. thesis, University of Pretoria.
  6. Kingdon, J, 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
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  8. Klingel, H, 1969. The social organization and population ecology of the plains zebra Equus quagga. Zool. Afr. 4:249-263.
  9. Nowak, R, 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World 5th edn. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  10. Skead, CJ, 1987. Historical Mammal Incidence in the Cape Vol 1 & 2, Government Printer, Cape Town.
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  12. Smithers, RHN, 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 1st edn. University of Pretoria, CTP Book Printers, Cape Town.
  13. Smuts, GL, 1972. Seasonal movements, migration and age determination of Burchell’s zebra Equus burchelli antiquorum in the Kruger National Park. M.Sc. thesis, University of Pretoria.
  14. Smuts, GL, 1974. Growth, reproduction and population characteristics of Burchell’s zebra Equus burchelli antiquorum in the Kruger National Park. D.Sc. thesis, University of Pretoria.
  15. Smuts, GL, 1974. Age determination in Burchell’s zebra Equus burchelli antiquorum from the Kruger National Park. J. Sth Afr. Wildl. Mgmt Ass. 4:103-115.
  16. Smuts, GL, 1975. Home range sizes for Burchell’s zebra Equus burchelli antiquorum from the Kruger National Park. Koedoe 18:139-146.
  17. Smuts, GL, 1976. Population characteristics of Burchell’s zebra Equus burchelli antiquorum in the Kruger National Park. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 6:99-112.
  18. Ungulates of the World, 2008. http://www.ultimateungulate.com
  19. Ward, R, 2006. Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, 27th edn. Rowland Ward Publications.
  20. Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2008. Equidae. http://en.wikipedia.org
  21. Wilson, DE & Reeder, DM, 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edn. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. 1 207 pp.
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