Common Zebra (Equus quagga). Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com
Plains or Burchell´s Zebra is the species of this striped equine that inhabits the Serengeti National Park.
During the Great Migration, alongside wildebeest, some 190 thousand zebra complete the circular clockwise route in search for fresh pastures, and are a persistent sight in the reserve.
The Plains Zebra is the most common and geographically widespread form of zebra. They are mid-sized and thick-bodied with relatively short legs. Adults of both sexes stand about 1.4 metres high at the shoulder, are approximately 2.3 metres long, and weigh about 230 kg. Like all zebras, they are boldly striped in black and white and no two individuals look exactly alike. All have vertical stripes on the forepart of the body, which tend towards the horizontal on the hindquarters.
Their characteristic and vividly contrasting black and white stripes are still today an enigma for scientists. Most zoologists assume that the stripes act as a camouflage mechanism, while others believe them to play a role in social interactions, with slight variations of the pattern allowing the animals to distinguish between individuals.
Zebras can travel at a top speeds of 55km per hour: although slower than horses, they have much greater stamina. Plains Zebras are highly social and usually form small family groups consisting of a single stallion, one, two, or several mares, and their recent offspring.
Unlike many of the large ungulates of Africa, Plains Zebras prefer but do not require short grass to graze on. In consequence, they range more widely than many other species, even into woodland, and they are often the first grazing species to appear in a well-vegetated area. Only after zebras have cropped and trampled the long grasses do wildebeests and gazelles move in. Nevertheless, for protection from predators, Plains Zebras retreat into open areas with good visibility at night time, and take it in turns standing watch. They eat a wide range of different grasses, preferring young, fresh growth where available, and also browse on leaves and shoots from time to time.