With their black and white stripes, zebras are a distinctive wildlife species often seen in game parks, zoos and the wild. These social animals are classified in three different species: the plains zebra (also known as the common zebra), the mountain zebra and the Grévy’s zebra (also known as the Imperial zebra). In the wild, they can be found in various habitats, including grasslands and hills, and they usually prefer environments that do not have dense vegetation.
Sadly, the zebra population has been affected negatively by the destruction of their habitats and by those hunting them for their skins to create trade products. Added to this, the mountain zebra and the Grévy’s zebra are today listed as endangered species.
Another threat to zebras’ existence is the presence of predators. Although zebras are more than capable of protecting themselves with their sharp hooves and swift kicks, they are unfortunately preyed upon by several predators that have developed a taste for their meat.
Let’s take a look at some of the Zebra’s main predators.
1. African lions
Zebras are not completely defenceless when it comes to protecting themselves against these much-feared yet respected predators. This is due to zebras being bigger than lions and being able to deliver hard kicks with their hooves. However, a pride of lions can overpower a zebra easily. This zebra predators are known to stalk their prey before pouncing. This tactic enables them to have the element of surprise and to easily take down a strong and healthy zebra.
2. Spotted hyenas
Although hyenas are known to be scavenger animals that have no qualms digging into other predators’ leftovers during the day, they do hunt for food at night. Zebras are often on hyenas’ radar and are hunted along with other prey preferred by the spotted hyenas. A pack of 10 to 25 hyenas can easily catch a zebra to feast on.
These zebra predators are stealthy hunters who are small in size but have strong muscles and resilience. Although they are smaller than big predators such as lions, they will not hesitate to hunt young or injured zebras. The leopards’ coat makes it easy to be camouflaged in the long grass as they move closer to unsuspecting prey such as the zebra. When they attack, they will grab hold of their prey with a strong hold of their jaws before striking blow after lethal blow.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on earth, reaching speeds of up to 120.7 km/h (75.0 mph). With their good eyesight and their speed, they are one of the zebra’s most dangerous enemies. Lone cheetahs will usually hunt young colts; however, when they are hunting in packs, this predator of zebras can take down bigger, adult zebras as they have the advantage of numbers, strength and being able to overtake the zebra.
5. African wild dogs
Another smaller yet deadly species that target zebras as a food source is the African wild dog. These animals, although small in stature, can easily gain the upper hand on a zebra when they are hunting in packs, as seen in the Serengeti. African wild dogs typically hunt in packs of six to twenty and some of their easiest zebra prey would be those animals that are ill or have been injured before.
6. Nile crocodiles
Next zebra predators are crocodiles, which pose a big threat to zebras. These ambush predators lurk in dam and river waters where the zebras might go for a soothing drink or when they need to cross a body of water. Then, when the time is right, they strike, clamping down on their prey with a powerful bite that is not easy to get out of. To kill their catch, Nile crocodiles will either crush or try to drown them in the water. Although a zebra can sometimes break free and flee the jaws of these powerful animals, the Nile crocodile doesn’t give up easily and it will take tremendous willpower and strength for a zebra to not resign to its fate.
Sadly, humans are considered to be one of the biggest threats to zebras due to both diet and trade. The meat of the Burchell’s zebra, a subspecies of the plains zebra, is considered to be edible and packed full of vitamins such as zinc, Vitamin B12 and iron. Over and above eating this animal’s meat, humans also hunt zebras for their pelts that are then used for various items such as rugs and chair upholstery. Human’s farming practice also impact zebras’ feeding grounds as these herbivores’ habitat areas sizes are reduced.
Though it is clear that the zebra has many enemies when it comes to both predators and man, they are not completely defenceless. With their outstanding eyesight and social behaviour preference, they can easily defend themselves as they tend to stick together in groups. When a predator attacks, zebras will usually bunch together and flee, with mares and foals usually leading in the front. The dominant stallion of the group would also act as a protector, ready to ward off the attackers with bites and kicks.
This type of behaviour helps the zebras to escape when needed. However, when it comes to the assaults of man, perhaps it is man’s behaviour and not that of the zebra that need to be rectified to ensure this species doesn’t vanish from the face of the earth.
Predators will always be there, but man can certainly invest time and knowledge in conservation programs that will ensure zebra populations’ numbers do not dwindle. A ray of hope is that several conservation efforts are already in place, which bodes well for these beautiful animals. These include the Grévy’s Zebra Trust and the Quagga Project which aims to breed a species similar to the extinct quagga. Time will indeed tell if these efforts prove to be successful.
I hope that this article on zebra predators was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Animal Facts Page!