Zebra are native to Sub-Saharan Africa. Two prominent African Zebra species are Plains Zebra (Equus burchelli) and Grevy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi). They may look similar but they show many different behavior traits.
Plains Zebra can be identified by their broad stripes. They inhabit grasslands and savannas spanning all over eastern and southern Africa. Their mouths are specially adapted to eat all types of grasses, from tall and rough to short and tender. They compensate for poor digestion by eating throughout most of the day. They also cannot go for long times without water.
The social structure of Plains Zebra can be compared to that of horses. Though they are not territorial, adult males do acquire harems consisting of several unrelated females. Plains Zebra harems are relatively stable. Mares do not often leave the harem and the stallion is rarely replaced. Outside males will usually only disturb a harem to steal one of the adolescent females. Young males also leave the harem at adolescence to join bachelor herds where they play and fight with other colts until they are ready to acquire harems of their own, around age 5.
Grevy’s Zebra, on the other hand, are nearly twice as large as Plains Zebra. They are not nearly as widespread, inhabiting primarily regions of Northern Kenya. They can be identified by their smaller, narrower stripes that come together in a bulls-eye pattern at the rear. Grevy’s Zebra are more adapted to drier climates than Plains Zebra. They are able to browse when grass is scarce and will dig water holes when needed.
Grevy’s Zebra are territorial. Social groups consist of groups of mares with young offspring, bachelor herds, and solitary adult males defending distinct territories. Breeding takes place within these territories. The stallions advertise their territories by braying and mark boundaries with urine and feces.
When predators are present Grevy’s Zebra run while Plains Zebra exhibit group defense. The females bunch together protecting mothers and babies in the center of the group while the stallion attempts to fight off the predator. Despite their different behavioral patterns all zebra participate in social grooming and special greeting rituals. They are complex social animals