On this Wildlife Wednesday, lets talk about Grevys zebras – and finally figure out what the deal is with all those stripes.
What’s black and white and red all over? A blushing Grevy’s zebra, of course!
They’re most definitely not mules that had suffered an unfortunate encounter with a dropped pail of white (or maybe black?) paint. But with their big, round ears and thick neck, they might look that way at first glance. On this Wildlife Wednesday, let’s talk about Grevy’s zebras—and finally figure out what the deal is with all those stripes.
Grevy’s zebras, like other zebra species, make their homes in Africa’s semi-arid grasslands. Most specifically, they can be found munching their way through the open fields that dot the landscapes of both Ethiopia and Kenya.
- And no, we weren’t kidding! Grevy’s zebras spend as much as two-thirds of their day chowing down on tasty, tasty grasses.
- It makes sense, though, considering that they’re the largest zebra species out there—and the largest equine, for that matter. They can grow to be 9 ft (3 m) from nose to rump and can weigh up to 990 lbs (449 kg).
- The size of these enormous equines is one way that researchers can tell them apart from their striped relatives, and their coats provide other clues. Unlike other zebras, these Grevy’s zebras have completely white bellies and a black stripe that runs the length of their spine.
- Finally, what is the deal with the stripes! There are a few different reasons:
- Protection. Stripes help to camouflage zebras from predators, making them unnoticeable when only 50 ft (15 m) away.
- Social interactions. Because stripe patterns are basically zebra fingerprints, it helps them tell each other apart.
- Built-in air conditioning. The patterns absorb heat differently, which may create tiny air turbulence and help to cool the zebras down.
Why are they threatened?
In recent years, the zebras have seen a drastic population decrease, from about 15,000 animals in the 1960s to no more than 2,400 in 2008. Their range has been similarly restricted—they no longer roam through their historical home of Somalia, and their ranges in both Ethiopia and Kenya are greatly reduced.
Hunting for skins, food, and in some cases traditional medicines is a major threat to these hoofed herbivores, and is thought to be the culprit behind the decline seen in Kenya in the 1970s, which continues in both Kenya and Ethiopia today.
Competition and reduced accessibility to food and water is another concern—the use of the Ewaso Ng’iro River in Kenya for irrigation is one notable example, since the flow of this river has been reduced by up to 90 percent over the past 30 years.