The Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is also called the ‘Imperial Zebra’. The Grevy’s zebra is the largest species of zebra and is found in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in Eastern Africa. In certain regions of Kenya, the plains zebras and Grevy’s zebras coexist (live together). The Grevy’s zebra was the first zebra to emerge as a species.
The Grevy’s zebra is considered an endangered species, mainly due to the hunting for its skin which fetches high prices on the world market.
Grevy’s Zebra Characteristics
The Grevy’s zebra have long heads and necks and a bristly mane running from the top of its head, downwards to the top of its back. The Grevy’s zebra is tall compared to the other zebra species and also differs from the other species with its primitive characteristics and different behaviour.
Grevy’s zebra is the largest of all wild equines and is probably more related the the asses than the other species who are more related to the horse. The Grevy’s zebra measures 2.5 – 3 metres (8 – 10 feet) from head to tail with a 38 – 75 centimetre (15 – 30 inches) tail and stands 1.25 – 1.6 metres (4 feet 1 inch – 5 feet 3 inches) high at the shoulder. These zebras weigh 350 – 450 kilograms (770 – 990 pounds). Males weigh 380 – 450 kilograms and females weigh 350 – 400 kilograms.
The stripes on the Grevy’s zebra are narrow and close-set, being broader on the neck and extending to the hooves. Grevy’s zebra have one black stripe running down the length of their backs, however, their belly and the area around the base of the tail lack stripes and are just white in colour. Because the stripes are closer together and thinner than most of the other zebras, it is easier to make a good escape and to hide from predators. Their ears are very large, rounded and conical. Their heads are large, long, and narrow, with a particularly mule-like appearance.
Grevy’s Zebra Diet
The Grevy’s zebra are herbivores and mostly consume grasses, however, they will also eat fruit, bark and leaves. Grevy’s zebra eat in high volume and spend around 60% of their time grazing. When food is scarce this will increase to about 80% of their time. The Grevy’s zebras well adapted digestive system allows them to subsist on diets of lower nutritional quality than that necessary for herbivores. Also, Grevy’s zebras require less water than other zebras.
Grevy’s Zebra Habitat
Grevy’s zebras habitats are grassy plains and savannas where grass is most abundant.
Grevy’s Zebra Social Structure
The social structure of the Grevy’s zebra is well-adapted for the dry and arid scrubland and plains that it primarily inhabits, less for the more lush habitats used by the other zebras. The Grevy’s zebra communicates over long distances.
The Grevy’s zebra move around in small groups of adults which only associate for a few months at a time. There is high competition over mating rights within these groups and the stallions will have pushing contests, rearing and biting each other for victory. Females Grevy’s zebra have a hierarchy as well within these groups, however, they engage in mutual grooming to establish relations with each other.
Male Grevy’s zebra are highly territorial and mark their territories with urine and piles of dung called ‘Middens’. Male Grevy’s zebra usually live solitary in their territories until females pass through during mating season. The male Grevy’s zebra differs from other zebras in mating behaviour as other zebra species form harems that remain in the males territory all year round. Non-territorial males travel together in groups of 7 or 8.
Grevy’s Zebra Senses
Grevy’s zebra have very good eyesight during the day and night. They have binocular vision in the front and can probably see in colour. Grevy’s zebra also have excellent hearing that can detect sounds in the far away distance. They also have a very keen sense of taste and can detect slight changes in the quality of their food.
Grevy’s Zebra Reproduction
Grevy’s zebra usually mate in August, September and October and produce foals during the rainy seasons. Grevy’s zebra mate year-round. Gestation of the female zebra lasts 350 – 400 days, with a single foal being born. A newborn zebra will follow anything that moves and therefore, new mothers are highly aggressive towards other mares a few hours after they gave birth. This prevents the foal from acquiring another female as its mother.
To adapt to an arid lifestyle, Grevy’s zebra foals take longer intervals between suckling bouts and do not drink water until they are 3 months old. They also and reach independence from the mare sooner than other equids. Foals nurse heavily for half a year and may travel with their mothers for 3 years.
The Grevy’s zebra foal is able to walk an hour after birth and is able to graze within a few weeks. Groups of females with their young offspring generally form herds of up to 200 animals. In captivity, the Grevy’s zebra life span can be as long as 40 years. In the wild, they usually live about 20 years or shorter.
Grevy’s Zebra Conservation Status
Grevy’s zebra is listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals partly due to hunting for its skin, which fetches a high price on the world market. The Grevy’s zebra also suffers habitat destruction, human disturbances at water holes and competition with domestic grazing animals. There are estimated to be 1,500 – 2,000 Grevy’s zebra still living in the wild. The Grevy’s zebra is however, common in captivity.