The plains zebra, also known as the common zebra or Burchell’s zebra, is the most common and geographically widespread species of zebra.
Like all zebras, they are boldly striped in black and white, and no two individuals look exactly alike. Individual zebras can apparently recognise each other by their striping patterns. The stripes may also serve as visual cues for grooming. In addition, they could serve to help zebra groups stay together when they are fleeing.
The plains zebra is highly social and usually forms small family groups called harems, which consist of a single stallion, several mares, and their recent offspring. The adult membership of a harem is highly stable, typically remaining together for months to years. Stallions form and expand their harems by abducting young mares from their natal harems. Groups of all male bachelors also exist.
Mares exist in a hierarchy, with the alpha female being the first to mate with the stallion and being the one to lead the group. When new mares are added to the group, they are met with hostility by the other mares. A stallion will defend his group from other males. When challenged, the stallion issues a warning to the invader by rubbing nose or shoulder with him. If the warning is not heeded, a fight breaks out. Zebra fights often become very violent, with the animals biting at each other’s necks, heads or legs, wrestling to the ground, and occasional kicking. Sometimes a stallion will lie still on the ground as if surrendering, but once the other male lets up, will strike and continue the fight.
The plains zebra’s major predators are lions and spotted hyenas. Nile crocodiles are also great threats during migratory river crossings. Wild dogs, cheetahs, and leopards also prey on zebras, although the threats they pose are generally minor and they mostly attack the foals. For protection from land predators, the plains zebra retreats into open areas with good visibility at night. When the groups forage or sleep, one zebra will keep watch, and if a predator is spotted, it will bark or snort loudly. When being hunted by hyenas or wild dogs, a zebra harem stays close together and cooperates to protect threatened members, particularly the young.
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