The Mountain zebra is truly a symbol of Africa. The species is so called due to its amazing climbing ability, allowing it to easily take over steep, rugged surfaces. This ungulate has developed considerably tougher and more pointed hooves than these of other equine species. This is one of the best-known are easily recognizable species of the horse family. The body of this animal is covered with black and white stripes. The mane is short and straight. Another distinctive characteristic of this species is ‘grid iron’, narrow stripes, running through its rump. Additionally, the Mountain zebras possess so-called 'dewlap" - a thin piece of skin on their throat. The dewlap is more conspicuous in males.
The Mountain zebras are represented by two sub-species. These are: Cape mountain zebras, inhabiting South Africa; and Hartmann's mountain zebra sub-species, occurring in scattered parts of Namibia, Angola and South Africa. As the common name of the species suggests, the Mountain zebras prefer living in mountainous slopes and plateaus. Meanwhile, Cape mountain zebra sub-species is found at heights of up to 2,000 m above sea level. During the cold winter months, they migrate to lower elevations. Hartmann’s mountain zebras, on the other hand, constantly move between mountains and salt flats.
Habits and lifestyle
The Mountain zebras lead diurnal lifestyle, being active by day and sleeping by night. They exhibit increased activity at dawn and dusk. Nearly half of their active time is spent feeding. In addition, they take dust baths 1 - 2 times per day. The Mountain zebras are gregarious creatures, forming small herds, typically harems, consisting of a single mature male as well as 1 - 5 mature females with their offspring. This species never occurs in large herds. Male zebras are called stallions and females are known as mares. The stallion dominates, defends and leads the herd. Two or more herds occasionally gather in temporary units of up to 30 animals. With the onset of the winter, herds may travel up to 20 km to find a water supply. They can water at both day and night, although in areas with excessive hunting, they usually water during the night.
zeal, crossing, dazzle, cohorts, herd
Diet and nutrition
The Mountain zebras maintain herbivorous diet, which is generally composed of grass, supplemented with some browse.
Mountain zebras have a polygynous mating system. They form small breeding herds, in which the dominant male mates with females of the herd. Although they may breed at any time of the year, Cape mountain zebras generally do so in December–January, while Hartmann’s mountain zebras breed between November and April. Females produce offspring at intervals of 1 - 3 years. Gestation period lasts for as long as 1 year, yielding a single foal. Weaning occurs at 10 months old. Then, between 13 and 37 months old, foals leave their natal herd. Female Mountain zebras produce offspring from 3 - 6 until 24 years old.
Threats to the population of this vulnerable species are many. Thus, the Mountain zebras presently suffer from hunting and persecution throughout their range. These animals are facing loss of their natural habitat, as a result of agricultural development. On the other hand, they are threatened by competition for resources with domestic livestock. And finally, the two Mountain zebra subspecies are potentially threatened by interbreeding and resulting fusion.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Mountain zebras estimates around 9,000 mature individuals. The current total population size of the Cape mountain zebra subspecies is 1,500 individuals (500 mature individuals). On the other hand, the population of Hartmann’s mountain zebra subspecies estimates around 25,000 animals, 8,300 of which are mature individuals. Overall, Mountain zebras are currently classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
Due to their habit of grazing, these mammals are likely to be important seed dispersers of the plants they consume. Moreover, they are believed to generate habitats for smaller animals such as mesopredators through grazing.
Fun facts for kids
- These mammals exhibit amazing climbing abilities, taking over steep, rugged terrains with more confidence than the plains zebras.
- Zebras see well at both day and night. Moreover, they possess a binocular vision in the front. Additionally, these ungulates are thought to see in color.
- The well-developed sense of taste allows them to feel even slight changes in the quality of their food.
- The striped color pattern of this animal is likely to reflect over 70% of incoming heat, thus helping the Mountain zebra escape overheating under the scorching sun of Africa.
- The striped coat of these mammals is believed to act as camouflage, confusing predators, particularly when the animal is in long grass. According to a recent study, zebras have developed this type of coloration in order to get rid of biting insects, whose visual systems doesn't perceive monochrome pattern.
- Each of these ungulates has its own unique stripe pattern, which helps identify individuals, acting as human fingerprints. For example, babies are able to recognize their mothers by a specific stripe pattern. Additionally, the Mountain zebras recognize each other by unique calls and odor.
- Every year, millions of zebras as well as antelopes such as blue wildebeest migrate a huge distance of 1,800 miles from Serengeti (Tanzania) to Masai Mara (Kenya), where they find suitable sources of food and water. This is one of the most dramatic and outstanding phenomenas around the globe.