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3 Types of Zebras: Species, Facts and Photos

Zebras, instantly recognizable due to their signature stripes, represent far more diversity than meets the eye. The variety goes beyond their unique exterior, extending to behavior, habitat, and diet across several species and subspecies. Thus, understanding the nuances within the different types of zebras offers an insightful exploration. Read on to learn more.

General Information about Zebras

Zebras are a species of the equine family known for their black and white stripes. Moreover, zebra stripes are a "dazzle camouflage" that confuses potential predators. Female Plains and Mountain Zebras breed only with their harem’s dominant stallion.

Zebras live in various habitats but face agricultural and ranching activities that shrink their living spaces. Additionally, their unique skin patterns make them a target for hunters, contributing to the near-extinction of certain species. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect this species.

Related Read: Zebra Facts.

Classification of Zebras

Zebras belong to the Equidae family and the Equus genus. There are three species: Plains Zebra, Mountain Zebra, and Grevy's Zebra. 

Each one has its subspecies, except Grevy’s Zebra. First, the Plains Zebra has five subspecies, while the Mountain Zebra has two subspecies. Moreover, the Grevy's Zebra is the largest and most endangered of the three species. 

These species have different habitats and feeding behaviors. For one, Plains Zebras live in grasslands and savannas, Mountain Zebras in hilly terrains, and Grevy's Zebras in semi-arid grasslands.

3 Types of Zebras: Species and Subspecies

1. Plains Zebra (Equus quagga)

Plains Zebra
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Plains Zebra is common in the grasslands of southern and eastern Africa. They feature black and white stripes, which are unique to each individual. 

Moreover, they can thrive in grasslands, savannahs, scrublands, and coastal hills. They tend to graze on grasses but can consume other parts of plants when food is scarce. This dietary flexibility allows them to thrive in environments where other grazers might struggle. 

Additionally, Plains Zebras are social animals that migrate in groups called harems. The harems comprise several females and their offspring, led by one stallion.

Chapman's Zebra (Equus quagga chapmani)

Chapman's Zebra
Photo by Stadtverwaltung Delitzsch on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Chapman's Zebra is a Plains Zebra subspecies in southern Africa's grasslands and savannas. It has broad, dark stripes interspersed with lighter "shadow" stripes, making each zebra recognizable in the wild. These stripes are as unique as fingerprints. 

Chapman's Zebras thrive in wet and dry habitats, including mountainous regions. 

They also have a well-developed digestive system, enabling them to extract nutrients from various plant materials and thrive in harsh conditions. Its diverse diet includes grasses, shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves, and bark. 

Crawshay's Zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi)

Crawshay's Zebra
Photo by Stfg on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Crawshay's Zebras live in eastern Zambia, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania, and northern Mozambique. They can live in various habitats, from grasslands to mountain slopes. 

Their distinctive pattern also allows them to blend in with the tall grasses of their habitat and confuse potential predators. 

Moreover, they mainly feed on grass but can consume shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves, and bark when food is scarce.

Crawshay's Zebras undertake epic migrations for food and water. They are hardy creatures with a primal instinct to survive, covering vast distances undeterred by several challenges.

Burchell's Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii)

Burchell's Zebra
Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Burchell's Zebra inhabits the grasslands of Southern Africa, named after the British explorer and naturalist William John Burchell. These zebras also thrive in wet and dry grasslands in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Moreover, Burchell's Zebra has broad black stripes with thinner shadow stripes of brown or grey. The stripes gradually fade into a lighter shade of grey down their body, and their legs have fewer stripes. This pattern confuses predators and deters biting insects.

Grant's Zebra (Equus quagga boehmi)

Grant's Zebra
Photo by Theo Kruse Burgers' Zoo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Grant's Zebra lives in the open grasslands of Eastern Africa. They are the smallest subspecies of the Plains Zebras and have a unique black-and-white striped pattern distinct for each individual. 

Moreover, these zebras primarily inhabit open areas with occasional bushes and stay close to water sources. They feed on grass but can also adapt to eating leaves, bark, and buds when grass is scarce. 

One notable characteristic of Grant's Zebras is their migratory behavior. They travel in large herds and follow rain patterns to find greener pastures.

Moreover, they observe a social hierarchy led by a dominant stallion. Despite being the smallest subspecies of Plains Zebras, they play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the grasslands they inhabit.

Selous' Zebra (Equus quagga borensis)

Selous' Zebra
Photo by DiegoC472 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Selous' Zebra gets its name from a British explorer and hunter, Frederick Selous.

It inhabits the grasslands and savannahs of southern Angola, northern Namibia, and western Zambia. 

These zebras seek out areas with abundant grass and a nearby water source for survival in their harsh environment. They can also eat leaves, strip bark from trees, and occasionally enjoy fruits when green pastures are scarce. 

Selous' Zebras have broad, dark stripes that taper into thinner, more numerous stripes on their legs. They also make a powerful call that echoes across the plains, which they use for communication and as a warning to potential predators. 

Moreover, these zebras are willing to travel long distances for sustenance and water.

2. Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra)

Mountain Zebra
Photo by Mike Peel on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Mountain Zebra lives in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. Its grid pattern of stripes extends down to its white belly, distinguishing it from the Plains Zebra. It features a grid pattern of stripes and dewlap, a fold of skin hanging from the neck. 

The animal navigates mountainous terrains with ease. Its diet includes various vegetation types, requiring up to 20 liters of water daily to survive. 

Moreover, the Mountain Zebra is a social animal that lives in small herds, led by a dominant stallion. The stallion defends his harem aggressively if necessary, and the animal makes a unique high-pitched bark used during social interactions.

The Mountain Zebra is a vulnerable species2 with an estimated global population of 34,979 mature individuals, with Hartmann's Mountain Zebra subspecies being dominant. Populations have recovered from severe reductions due to past droughts. 

However, the projected increase in drought frequency threatens the future population, potentially causing a decrease of at least 30%, especially impacting Hartmann's subspecies.

Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra)

Cape Mountain Zebra
Photo by Brian Snelson on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Cape Mountain Zebra is a smaller zebra species found in the rugged regions of South Africa's Western and Eastern Cape provinces. They feature a unique coat pattern of bold black stripes on a stark white background, with no stripes on their bellies. 

These zebras have adapted to the harsh mountainous terrain and can survive on various food sources, including grasses, bark, leaves, fruits, and roots. 

Moreover, the oldest female leads the herd, while stallions protect the group from rival zebras.

In the 1950s, the Cape Mountain Zebra population was below 801. As of 2015, it ranges between 1,714 to 3,247 mature zebras. 

Despite threats like genetic decline, habitat scarcity, and hybridization, focused efforts at the Mountain Zebra National Park and elsewhere have helped the species rebound. 

Thus, it’s currently categorized as the least concern yet requires consistent conservation management.

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae)

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
Photo by Ltshears on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra is a mountain zebra subspecies that inhabits Namibia and Angola's arid conditions and harsh terrain. They are nimble navigators who can easily climb steep mountainous landscapes. They can also survive for up to 72 hours without water. 

Their slender stripes form a grid-like pattern on their rump, with a noticeable dewlap hanging from their throat. Moreover, they are smaller; males weigh around 661 pounds, while females weigh 573 pounds.

Socially, Hartmann's Mountain Zebras form tight-knit communities. Each herd usually comprises one stallion, a few mares, and their young. Stallions mark and defend their territories relentlessly. The zebras are mainly grazers that feed on grass but can eat leaves, bark, and roots. 

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra is a vulnerable subspecies, with the possibility of a 30% population reduction in the next 33 years due to severe droughts. 

Annually, over 3,500 of them are killed under license. Although the current population status seems sustainable, changing climates and over-harvesting may exacerbate threats. 

3. Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi)

Grevy's Zebra
Photo by Rainbirder on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Grévy's Zebra, also called Imperial Zebra, is taller than other zebra species. Their stripes extend from their body to their ears, highlighting their remarkable hearing. 

They have adapted to Kenya and Ethiopia's semi-arid scrublands and grasslands, where they can survive for up to five days without water. Males stake out their territories, while females wander between them. 

Grevy's Zebra is an endangered species with a 54% population reduction over the last 30 years. Currently, approximately 2,680 individuals are left globally, with a higher concentration in Kenya than in Ethiopia. 

Threats to this species include habitat degradation and loss because of livestock overgrazing, competition with livestock for resources, hunting, and disease transmission from non-vaccinated livestock. 

Despite this, the population in Kenya has stabilized recently, and juvenile numbers are growing, promising hope for this species' future if current threats are effectively managed.

1

Hrabar, H., Birss, C., Peinke, D., Novellie, P. & Kerley, G. (2019). Equus zebra ssp. zebra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T7959A45171853. 

2

Gosling, L.M., Muntifering, J., Kolberg, H., Uiseb, K. & King, S.R.B. (2019). Equus zebra (amended version of 2019 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T7960A160755590. 

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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