The origin of the word zebra is not certain. It probably comes from an African language via Portuguese (zevra). The Damara word for zebra is !oareb and the Oshiwambo word ongolo.
There are only three species of zebra extant – the plains zebra, including the Burchell’s zebra found in Etosha; the mountain zebra, including Hartmann’s mountain zebra found in north-western Namibia; and the more distantly related Grévy’s zebra found in Kenya and Ethiopia. While the Grévy’s species is more akin to a donkey, the other species look more like domestic horses. All three belong to the horse family Equidae.
There are about 13 000 zebras in the Etosha National Park. They are unfortunately particularly susceptible to the deadly disease anthrax, which causes several hundred to perish in the park each year.
WHY THE STRIPES?
WHY THE STRIPES?
Zebras are very social animals. They live in groups ranging from small ‘harem’ groups dominated by a stallion, to large herds. A zebra’s stripes are basically vertical around its fore quarters, but horizontal around its rump. Each animal’s stripes are different, and as individually characteristic as fingerprints on a human. The purpose of the stripes is not known.
The most obvious explanation is camouflage, especially when the stripes are brown and black (plains zebra) rather than white and black (mountain zebra). Another theory is that the striped pattern somehow confuses the visual system of the blood-sucking tsetse fly, which finds it difficult to ‘navigate’ to the host. However, if this is why zebra have them, you might wonder why other animals haven’t tried the same trick.
Then there is the perhaps philosophical question as to whether the zebra is a white animal with black stripes, or a black animal with white stripes.