Plains Zebra

Plains Zebra

Burchell's zebra, Common zebra, Painted zebra, Plains zebra, Common zebra

4 languages
Equus quagga
Population size
Life Span
9-40 yrs
Top speed
65 km/h
175-385 kg
1-1.5 m
2.2-2.5 m

The plains zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchellii ), also known as the common zebra, is the most common and geographically widespread species of zebra. Its range is fragmented, but spans much of southern and eastern Africa south of the Sahara. Six or seven subspecies have been recognised, including the extinct quagga which was thought to be a separate species. More recent research supports variations in zebra populations being clines rather than subspecies.

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The plains zebra is intermediate in size between the larger Grévy's zebra and the smaller mountain zebra and tends to have broader stripes than both. Great variation in coat patterns exists between clines and individuals. The plain zebra's habitat is generally, but not exclusively, treeless grasslands and savanna woodlands, both tropical and temperate. They generally avoid desert, dense rainforest and permanent wetlands. Zebras are preyed upon by lions and spotted hyenas, Nile crocodiles and, to a lesser extent, cheetahs and African wild dogs.

The plains zebra is a highly social species, forming harems with a single stallion, several mares and their recent offspring; bachelor groups also form. Groups may come together to form herds. The animals keep watch for predators; they bark or snort when they see a predator and the harem stallion attacks predators to defend his harem.

The plains zebra remains common in game reserves, but is threatened by human activities such as hunting for its meat and hide, as well as competition with livestock and encroachment by farming on much of its habitat. The species population is stable and not endangered, though populations in most countries have declined sharply. As of 2016, the plains zebra is classified as near threatened by IUCN.

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Dominance hierarchy


Highly social


Partial Migrant


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The Plains zebras are well-known African mammals, exhibiting characteristic black and white stripes all over their body. They are most abundant and, probably, most recognizable grazing animals of the continent. Their closest relatives are donkeys and horses. The sparkling coat of this species reflects more than 70% of incoming heat, which is likely to help these animals survive under scorching African sun. Each of these animals has its own unique stripe pattern, which helps identify individuals. Additionally, striped coat is used as ideal camouflage, allowing these ungulates remain unspotted by predators in the grass.



The Plains zebras are endemic to Africa, where they are represented by 6 sub-species, whose territories overlap. The natural range of these animals covers south-eastern part of the continent, stretching from southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia southwards through eastern Africa to Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and the southernmost regions of Africa. Additionally, the Plains zebras used to be found in Burundi, Lesotho and, probably, Angola. However, they are currently extinct in these countries. Preferred types of habitat are open terrains such as open savannas, open grasslands, open woodlands as well as open scrublands. Less popular habitats are taller grasslands, denser woodlands, hills and mountainous areas. All of the six sub-species appear to avoid dense forests, deserts and wetland areas.

Plains Zebra habitat map

Climate zones

Plains Zebra habitat map
Plains Zebra
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Habits and Lifestyle

The Plains zebras are more active during the day and spend most of their time feeding. Depending on the population, zebra herds may be sedentary, or migratory. They are territorial highly gregarious animals, forming permanent family units. These are harem-based groups, consisting of a single dominant male called stallion as well as up to six females with their offspring. The core of each group is made up of females, which form rather close bonds. When the stallion leaves the group or is killed, the community members don't disperse. Instead, they wait until another alpha male takes over. When migrating, these ungulates can be observed in large concentrations, composed of several such harems. While in these large groups, harems rarely come into conflicts. Stallions usually display a friendly attitude through ritual greetings, during which they raise their ears and sniff the bodies of one another. On the other hand, females of different harems display noticeably aggressive behavior towards each other. Within a family unit, mutual grooming is a common activity, which is believed to enhance relationships between individuals. Grooming is generally performed between mothers and their young as well as siblings. In addition, Plains zebras often display their status and settle conflicts through grooming. These animals constantly keep watch for predators; they bark or snort when they see a predator and the harem stallion attacks, predators, to defend his harem.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

The Plains zebras are grazing and browsing mammals, known to maintain herbivorous diet, which is primarily composed of grasses and supplemented with herbs, leaves and twigs.

Mating Habits

390-396 days
1 foal
1-3 years
foal, colt

The Plains zebras exhibit a polygynous mating system, where a single dominant male controls and mates with a harem of females. During the mating season, males of this species engage in a harsh competition. However, if one of them gets a female, "gentlemen's agreement" doesn't allow other males to mate with this female or lure her away. They may breed at any time of year. However, females in East Africa generally give birth between October and March, which coincides with the rainy season. Most births are known to occur in January. A single foal is produced after 360 - 396 days of gestation. The Plains zebras are born is a highly-developed state. As soon as born, the foals can stand. They begin taking grass by 1 week old. Young zebras are weaned at 7 - 11 months old, although lactation period may last for as long as 16 months. Upon becoming independent at 1 - 3 years old, they disperse. At about 16 - 22 months old, the Plains zebras are ready to mate, although they don't do so until they are older. For example, males start mating only at 4 years old, when they are mature enough to defend their mating rights against other males and control a harem of females.


Population threats

Classified as Least Concern, this species is not currently threatened with extinction, although it does suffer from a number of localized factors such as loss of habitat and hunting. In addition, they compete with livestock for grass and water.

Population number

According to the Wikipedia resource, the total population number of the Plains zebras is around 750,000 individuals, including 150,000-200,000 mature individuals. As reported on the IUCN Red List, the overall population of this species throughout Africa is about 660,000 (data from 2002), as much as 75% of which belong to the Grant’s subspecies. About 200,000 Plains zebras inhabit the greater Serengeti/Mara ecosystem and 151,000 of them live in Serengeti National Park (the largest population of this species). Overall, this species is currently classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.

Ecological niche

These animals contribute greatly to the ecosystem of their habitat. For example, Burchell's zebras help maintain stability and dynamics of grazing communities of their range. Together with other ungulates of East Africa, they participate in a wide-scale migration, during which they travel a huge distance of up to 483 km.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Communication system of these ungulates includes six distinct calls, one of which is the two-syllable vocalization, which serves as an alarm call. They also give out snorting sounds, which express happiness. Along with vocalizations, these zebras communicate with each other through facial expressions. For example, greeting ritual includes raising their ears and pushing their face forward. Meanwhile, when feeling danger, they usually drop their ears, pressing them against the head.
  • Zebras are well known for their annual migration, during which they travel a huge distance of up to 1,800 miles, facing numerous dangers. Migration is caused by scarcity of food and water sources. They form large migratory groups of thousands of individuals, moving from Serengeti (Tanzania) to Kenya.
  • These ungulates are aptly called “pioneer grazers”, since they do an advance grazing, preparing plains for more picky grazers that consume short grasses, rich with nutrients.
  • They use multiple means of self-defense against predators. For example, community members come together in a mix of black and white stripes, so that their limbs become indistinguishable. This unusual strategy confuses and wards off predators. When threatened, the Plains zebras occasionally flee. And finally, they may turn to extreme measures, defending themselves through their strong hooves and sharp teeth.


1. Plains Zebra Wikipedia article -
2. Plains Zebra on The IUCN Red List site -

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