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  • Zaytoen Domingo

How did the zebra get its stripes? And other zebra facts and folklore

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Single-hoofed, black-and-white striped equids known as zebras can be found in the African bushveld. These beasts are closely related to horses and donkeys, but have an interesting story of their own. 

Telling stories to your guests is an important part of your role as a field guide, so it’s a good idea to have some folklore in your repertoire. It’s also important to have some interesting facts up your sleeve.

The most striking feature of the zebra is its dual-toned coat. Find out how the zebra got its stripes, other fun facts about zebras and why these zebra facts are good to know for field guides.

Why do zebras have stripes?

Some say zebras are white with black stripes. Others believe zebras are black with white stripes. 

But did you know that zebras actually have black skin under their fur?

The age-old question, “how did the zebra get its stripes?” is something you might have asked yourself the first time you learnt about these equids. 

This story about zebra stripes comes from the San people from the Namibian Kalahari Desert. 

A long time ago, Africa almost ran out of water because the sun was so hot that it dried up most of its water pools. Animals came from far and wide to drink from the few pools that were left. One day, a baboon sat making a fire next to one of the few remaining water pools that he ruled over and kept to himself. A young zebra and his father came from the grasslands in search of water to drink.

Zebras in Africa drinking from a waterpool.

Original photo: “Zebra drinking” by Hilde Swets is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When the baboon saw them approaching, he jumped up to guard his water pool with all his might and warned the zebras to stay away. The young zebra and the baboon got into a big argument.

With a mighty kick, the young zebra sent the baboon flying into the air. He landed on his bottom, causing a patch of hair to fall out. 

The young zebra, dizzy from the kick, stumbled into the fire next to the water pool. His white fur got scorched and left him with black stripes. 

The zebra’s fur would never be plain white again.

Scientists haven’t been able to determine the real-life origin of zebra stripes, so all we have is  folklore. As a field guide, you will share oral stories like this one with your guests on a safari drive.

If there are kids joining their parents on the safari drive, you can play “Where’s Wally”. Instead of spotting the boy in the striped t-shirt, you can spot the animal with the striped coat.

Let’s find out about some other zebra facts to add to your stories.

What sound does a zebra make?

Original video: “Zebra sounds” by  AlexTriceratops123 is licensed under CC0

It may not come as a surprise that some zebras sound like horses. But it will surprise you that some zebras also sound like dogs, or people laughing, or even pigs.

Sometimes zebras bark, bray, or snort, each with a high-pitched tone. Each sound has a different meaning — like saying hello or “get out of my personal space!”

You can say hello to zebras every day as a field guide on a nature reserve.

What do zebras eat?

Zebras are herbivores and mainly eat grass. They also eat small bushes, twigs and leaves from trees that they can reach. 

You probably wondered how many nutrients are in these simple plants? Almost none.

Did you know that zebras have strong digestive systems, which helps them to live on diets with minimal nutrients?

Where do zebras live?

A zebra in fading afternoon light wit an oxpecker on its back.

Zebras are native to Africa. The zebra habitat is grasslands, some in the east and south parts of Africa. 

A zebra species called the Grevy’s, can be found in Ethiopia and north of Kenya. Others are found on mountains, like in South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.

Zebras can also be spotted in nature reserves where the species are conserved and protected. 

Do you love wildlife like zebras and want to make an impact on wildlife conservation

You can work with zebras and other wild animals. Join a field guiding course today.

BY: Zaytoen Domingo


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