Geographical Range Northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia
Habitat Semi-arid scrubland and grassland
Scientific Name Equus grevyi
Conservation Status Endangered

Which Zebra's Which?

The Grevy's zebra is the largest of the three zebra species. It has a long head and neck, with an erect striped mane running from the top of the head down to the upper back. Its ears are extremely large and rounded.

The Skinny on Stripes

What's the first thing you notice about a zebra? Its stripes! Although it may not be obvious when you look at them, the black-and-white stripes of a zebra actually help the animal hide from predators. A striped animal standing motionless in grass and low shrubs is nearly invisible, since the stripes blend in with the background.

Stripes help when the zebras are on the move, too. When a herd of zebras is running from a lion or a leopard, the blur of fast-moving stripes makes it hard for the cat to distinguish between animals, and therefore to separate one to chase.

The stripes of a Grevy's zebra are very narrow, compared with the stripes of other zebras, and the striping continues all the way down the legs to the hooves.

Strictly Vegetarian

Zebras spend about nearly two-thirds of their day eating. Like all members of the horse family, they primarily graze on grasses. During drought or when grass is scarce, they may also eat bark and leaves.

Adult Grevy's zebras can go up to five days without water and will walk up to nine miles to a water source! Mares with young foals must drink every day. They stay close to a source of water until the foals are three to four months old.

Staying Close to Mom

There's not a specific breeding season for Grevy's zebras: breeding and births occur throughout the year. After a 13-month gestation (pregnancy), a mare gives birth to one foal, which weighs 80-125 pounds. Foals are born with dark brown stripes and fuzzy hair coats. By one year of age, their hair coats become less fuzzy and sleeker, and their stripes turn black.

Foals can walk within an hour of their birth, a necessity in a world where predators keep a sharp lookout for newborns. Grevy's zebras are considered to be "followers," meaning that newborns stay close to their mothers at all times for protection and nurse frequently through the day.

Protecting their Turf

Adult Grevy's zebras don't form permanent herds like other species of horses and zebras. The only strong social bond is the one between a mare and her foal. Other adults (mares without foals, bachelors, juveniles, etc.) form loose social groups that may vary from day to day.

Grevy's zebra stallions set up large territories, which they mark at the borders with large dung heaps. They mate with any mares that wander through in search of water and tasty grass. The better their territory's grass and water supplies, the better their chances of mating, and so the more offspring they'll produce.

A male will tolerate other stallions (bachelors) in his territory, as long as they don't try to breed with mares and don't interfere with his activities. Otherwise, he will aggressively defend his land. The Grevy's zebra has one of the largest territories of any hoofed animal (1-2 sq. miles).

Disappearing Stripes

Unlike the plentiful plains zebras, the Grevy's zebra is endangered. In 1977, there were about 15,200 Grevy's zebra remaining in the Horn of Africa countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Today, there are estimated to be fewer than 2,200 left in the wild, and the species is considered extinct in Somalia. Its range is now severely limited: to the northernmost scrublands in Kenya, and to three small isolated sub-populations in Ethiopia.

What's happened to the Grevy's zebras? They're losing out to humans in the competition for their land. The zebras are being crowded out of their grazing habitat by livestock. What's more, irrigation for farming is draining water from their land, and they are competing for water with livestock at waterholes, both of which are leaving them with less to drink.

Scientists are working with local communities in Africa to reverse the sharp decline in the number of wild Grevy's zebras. The Saint Louis Zoo is also taking a lead in this fight (see side story). With luck, the combination of captive breeding programs and field conservation efforts will save this beautiful animal before it becomes extinct in the wild.

Fun facts

  • The Grevy's zebra was named in honor of Jules Grevy, president of France's Third Republic, to whom the first known specimen of the animal was sent in 1882.
  • Grevy's zebras communicate with each other with a loud donkey-like bray.
  • The stripe pattern of a zebra is as unique as a fingerprint. Every zebra is striped differently, allowing individuals to be identified by their stripe pattern.
  • To answer the age-old question...zebras are white with black stripes (rather than the other way around)!
  • Seen from behind, the Grevy's zebra has a gleaming patch of white on either side of its tail. It's no wonder the animal is known as Loiborkurum ("white-rumped") in Samburu, the local language.

Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae