The Common Zebra
The common or Burchell's zebra stands about 50-52 in (1.3 m) tall at the shoulder. It has the widest stripes of all zebras, and the stripes continue down to the belly of the animal. The stripes of Burchell's zebra become fainter and almost disappear in southern populations.
There are several subspecies of the common zebra, distinguishable by the pattern of stripes on the rump. Grant's zebra (E. burchelli granti) has wide rump stripes, the Chapmann's or Damaraland zebra has tan shadow stripes between the black stripes, and Selous's zebra has only faint shadow stripes between the black stripes. A subspecies known as the "true" Burchelli's zebra had reddish brown stripes, and became extinct in the early 1900s.
Herds of common plains zebras are actually a collection of family groups. Each family group is headed by a dominant male stallion and one female is dominant over the other seven or eight females and their young.
When the group is feeding or drinking, one animal stands guard. If a predator approaches, such as a troop of wild dogs or lions, the stallion zebra moves to the back of the fleeing herd and ensures that no single animal falls behind or gets separated and becomes vulnerable to attack. Zebras that become isolated call attention to their plight by making a harsh sound like a combination bark and bray, which draws the other zebras back to protect it.
The zebra's large, rounded ears turn in every direction and are able to pick up the slightest sound. The zebra's primary defense is running, which it can do at speeds approaching 40 mph (64 kph), though for only a short time. Given the chance, a zebra fights primarily by kicking with its hind hooves. However, an attacking predator is likely to grasp the animal's neck with one quick leap that prevents the zebra from acting.
After a young mare mates for the first time, she will stay with the same family group for the rest of her life. Males that have not yet developed herds—or that have been ousted from their herds by other males—live in male-only bands (bachelor herds), which they leave to find mates at about six years old. If stallions try to take mares from an existing family group, they will have to fight that group's stallion.
Gestation lasts approximately one year, with only one offspring produced. The young are born with disproportionately long legs and are ready to run with the herd within a few minutes. The brown-striped coat of a new foal gradually changes to the familiar black and white.