White with black stripes or black with white stripes? Trick question! Zebras have black skin underneath their fur, but have both black and white fur, so you could say they’re black with black and white stripes. And why exactly do they have these stripes? Protection! When gathered in a dazzle (yep, that’s the technical term for a group of zebras), the confusing pattern makes it difficult for a predator to pick one individual to chase.
There are three different species of zebra—plains, mountain and Grévy’s—all native to sub-Saharan Africa. The easiest way to distinguish the species is to examine their coat; the plains zebra’s stripes wrap around its belly, while the stripes of the mountain and Grévy’s zebra do not. The mountain zebra also has a pronounced flap of skin on its neck called a dewlap.
The Zoo is home to three Grévy’s zebra mares—Zonka, Iggy and Lauren. They live comfortably in Expedition Africa, but their wild counterparts are not doing so well. Grévy’s zebras are considered endangered with only about 2,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Contributing factors to their decline include habitat degradation, competition with and diseases from livestock, hunting for their meat, hides and, in some areas, alleged medicinal properties, and hybridization with the plains zebra. Access to water supply has also severely decreased throughout the past three generations, most notably in Kenya’s Ewaso Ng’iro River where irrigation development has reduced river flow by ninety percent.
Grévy’s Zebra Trust, an organization based out of Kenya, is managing programs that will help Grévy’s zebras thrive across their natural range. Habitat restoration through grass re-seeding and planned livestock grazing is being implemented by the African government in Kenya and Ethiopia. Scouts in the area are closely monitoring wild zebras’ body condition and providing additional water to quench their thirst. Through the work of conservation organizations and local governments, Grévy’s zebras are benefiting in the wild.
We have proudly supported the Trust through our conservation efforts. If you’re passionate about zebras and you have a little cash to spare, we recommend contributing to this organization as well! Your efforts to protect these iconic striped ungulates help to ensure “Z” will stand for “zebra” for many generations to come.