Plains zebra

Common Name: Plains zebra

Scientific Name: Equus quagga

The distinctive wide, black and white stripes on the plains zebra are thought to reflect around 70% of incoming heat, helping them to withstand the heat of the African Savannah. 

As the plains zebra is a hindgut fermenter it can survive on a much poorer diet than that of African ruminants like giraffe, antelope, and gazelles. As they clear older grasses including seed heads, they provide an important eco service for other more selective grazers on the African plains. 

Plains zebra are often seen grazing in the company of giraffes. It is thought in the wild this strategy allows the zebra to reduce their own vigilance by using the giraffes as an early warning system for the approach of would-be predators. Allowing the plains zebra to maximise grazing whilst mitigating the risk of predation.

Fast Facts

  • Status

    Near threatened

  • Size

    Height 1 - 1.5m

  • Weight

    175 - 385 kg

  • Gestation

    12 - 13 months

  • Young


  • Life Span

    up to 40 years in captivity

In the wild

Grass makes up the majority of the plains zebra diet, however, they will occasionally eat browse (leaves and twigs) in order to maintain their protein levels. As their diet is relatively low in nutrition, zebras will spend much of the day grazing and foraging.

Plains zebra have a wide range across South Sudan and southern Ethiopia, east of the Nile River, to southern Angola and northern Namibia and northern South Africa. They often inhabit grasslands and most herds will migrate to find new areas in search of fresh grazing and water sources. Unlike other species, adult plains zebra need daily access to water, limiting their grazing range to within 10 km of a reliable water source. In fact, some studies suggest that plains zebra are particularly skilled at timing their migrations to follow weather patterns across seasons to ensure access to water and abundant grazing of long grasses.

A single male (stallion) will have control of a herd of females (referred to as a hareem) with fierce competition between the males during the mating season. A single highly developed foal is born 12 – 13 months after mating. The foal will be able to stand as soon as it is born and will begin to supplement its mother’s milk with grass within a week of birth.



Lions and spotted hyenas are the main predators of plains zebra. They are also poached for their skins and meat in some regions of Africa.


Despite the plains zebra being found in many protected areas across Africa, in recent years population trends have shown a decline across its range. As habitat loss and illegal hunting are key threats to this species suggested actions include increased monitoring and assessment of risk to the species as well as further study into the biology and genetic diversity of the species across the world.

It is thought that as the plains zebra appears to alter its migration pattern to avoid adverse conditions and or locate better grazing and water sources, then populations previously restricted by fences could be encouraged to re-establish old migratory patterns on their removal.

They are also included in an IFAW-funded anti-poaching project.

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