Wednesday, 13 February 2013

New zebra settling in nicely

George with Milo, Ella and Benjamin Mee
On December 5th 2012 we received our new Zebras from Longleat Safari Park, and they were immediately placed in their new, purpose built stable. They took to their new home very quickly, and have rapidly become a firm favourite of the Keepers.

They were named by a special DZP visitor, George Koshti-Richman as Zebedee, Zak & Spot. They are all easily identifiable, as each zebra’s stripes are unique to that animal, a bit like our fingerprints. Zebedee can be identified by the thick black stripe down the centre of his back, Zak has thick black stripes under both eyes, and Spot has a small white “heart” shape on the top of his back right leg and a black “Y” on his upper right foreleg.

Their unique markings make it easy for us to identify individuals, but there is one intriguing questions regarding the zebra’s stripes; are they white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? The answer is to be found at the end of this article.

You may be surprised to see three males together, but in zebra society this is perfectly normal. Young males leave their family herd at between one and four years old and join all male bachelor herds until they are able to lead a herd of their own. Inter zoo co-operation allows these natural set-ups to happen by sending males to other collections who have the space to hold bachelor herds. Here at DZP they can form a bachelor herd where they can exhibit natural behaviours such as play fighting, learning new social skills, and generally behaving normally.

Zak, Zebedee and Spot enjoying their accommodation
Zebras can, and will become aggressive if they feel threatened, and they have some pretty formidable weapons with which to defend themselves. When confronted by any form of danger they will lash out with their powerful hind legs, or they will try to bite with their impressive teeth. Either can cause quite serious injuries and all the Keeper Team have been trained to manage the zebra with minimal risk to both parties.

We are planning to let them out into the African Paddock sometime in March, when, hopefully, the ground will have dried out. As they are designed for life in arid areas they can sometimes suffer hoof problems if the ground is too wet, and after our very rainy winter we want to make sure everything is perfect before giving them access to the fields. This has given us the opportunity to train the zebra, getting them to treat the stable block as a place of security, comfort and food. This will be important in the summer months when we may need to get them in for paddock maintenance or routine veterinary examinations and procedures.

Grants Zebras are the smallest of the Plains Zebra sub-species, being typically 120-140cms tall, and weighing on average 300Kgs. They can live up to 25 years in the wild, but in zoos and wildlife parks we can expect them to live for up to 40 years.

They are without doubt one of the most readily identifiable of all the African animals. No-one who has ever seen a Zebra can confuse it with anything else, which in a way is ironic. The very thing that makes the zebra most identifiable is the one thing that may help it when being attacked by lions, hyenas, hunting dogs or leopards. When they are in a large herd their stripes act as a disruptive camouflage, confusing predators because they cannot distinguish one individual from another.

Zebras are social animals, living in a herd system consisting of a stallion several mares and their young. Some herds may combine to form larger ones numbering several hundred, but family members will always remain close to each other.

Zebras are an iconic African species that inspire joy and excitement in all who see them, but there is still one unanswered question that perplexes staff and visitors alike. Are they white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? The current opinion from scientists is that they are black with white stripes. What do you think?  Either way they are indeed striking animals, and we look forward to seeing them in all their glory for years to come.

Mike Downman
Head Keeper

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