Eastern and southern Africa


Mountain and plains zebras live in grasslands and savannas; Grevy's zebras live in sub-desert and arid grasslands

Reading between the lines

Despite their appearance, zebras aren’t just black and white. They are sturdy, spirited animals that are a study in contrasts: willful and playful, social and standoffish, resilient and vulnerable. Their life in a herd can be complex, yet they also find safety in numbers. They are prey for predators, but they are by no means shrinking violets when it comes to defending themselves. Read between the lines, and you’ll discover that the world of the zebra is colorful indeed!

Wild horses

Zebras are equids, members of the horse family. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour). They also have a powerful kick that can cause serious injury to a predator, like a lion, a hyena, or an African wild dog. Usually the lead male of the herd, called a stallion, sounds the alarm if danger is spotted and stays at the back of the group to defend against predators if necessary, while the mares (females) and foals (youngsters) run away.

Zebras often trot when moving to new pastures, which is a fairly fast but easy gait for them to use over the long distances they may have to travel. Their hard hooves are designed to withstand the impact of their body weight and to run easily over rocky ground. When resting at night, zebras lie down while one stands watch to prevent an ambush.

Each zebra has a unique stripe pattern—no two are alike.
Zebras are attracted to black-and-white stripes. If stripes are painted on a wall, a zebra tends to stand next to it.
A zebra's eyesight at night is thought to be about as good as that of an owl.
Grevy’s zebras have been called “imperial zebras” because of their majestic appearance.
Zebras have a pad of fat under their mane that keeps it standing straight up.
During the Serengeti’s famous annual migrations, zebra herds are the first to go, followed by wildebeest and then gazelles.
Zebras in the Serengeti eat the tops of the tall, coarse grasses, leaving the shorter blades for the smaller herbivores.

Two Chapman’s zebras were first exhibited at the San Diego Zoo in 1924, followed by a Grevy’s zebra male received in October 1940. Today, the Zoo is home to a small herd of Grevy’s zebras in our Northern Frontier, and a young Grant’s zebra named Zari is one of our animal ambassadors. Guests can get close to Zari during our Backstage Pass program or see her with her Mediterranean donkey companion, Sophia, in the Zoo’s Urban Jungle.

At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, you can view a herd of Grevy’s zebras from the Africa Tram Safari. Work is also underway on a new field exhibit for our group of Hartmann’s mountain zebras, and when it is complete you can see the similarities—and differences—in the two species for yourself.

For an extra element of fun, the Safari Park is also home to an animated, digital zebra named Robert who serves as the Park’s “spokes-critter.” Guests can chat with Robert and ask him all sorts of questions about zebras. He’ll have you laughing in no time! You'll find Robert holding court in the Park's Nairobi Station.

Unfortunately, there are some threats—loss of habitat, poaching, and disease—that zebras can’t outrun. With a wild population of about 25,000, the mountain zebra is classified as threatened. The Cape mountain zebra came very close to extinction as a result of hunting and competition with domestic cattle. In 1937, Mountain Zebra National Park was established in South Africa, where only 47 Cape mountain zebras remained. Their numbers have now increased to several hundred, with the majority still in the national park.

The endangered Grevy’s zebra’s population has been ravaged by anthrax outbreaks, dropping its ranks to an estimated wild population of 2,250. San Diego Zoo Global is a member of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, an independent wildlife conservation organization in Kenya, and our researchers are working with other conservation groups to help preserve the population. As of August 2012, we've had 128 Grevy's zebra births at our facilities.

You can help, too. Every weekend at the San Diego Zoo we offer an opportunity to hand- feed our Masai giraffes for a $5 donation. The money raised goes to the Northern Rangelands Trusts in Kenya and the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, both of which have a major focus on helping zebras. Through the generosity and participation of guests at the Zoo’s giraffe feeding, donations have brought much-needed help in vaccinating zebras against anthrax in Kenya and funding other needs.