Best known for their distinctive black and white stripes, zebras can be found in various parts of Africa. Three species of zebra exist today: plains zebras, Grevy's zebras and mountain zebras. While plains zebras are still fairly populous, with more than 750,000 existing, only 2,500 Grevy's zebras and less than 2,000 mountain zebras remain.
Before the Birth
Most zebras live in small herds, or harems, of around six females led by one dominant male. However, these social creatures will sometimes converge temporarily into much larger groups. The male of the group will mate with all his females, often at different points during the year. No set breeding season exists. The gestation period is 12 to 13 months, after which the mother zebra will usually give birth to a single foal.
Like their mothers, baby zebras will be striped from birth. Unlike their mothers, however, baby zebras stripes aren't black and white, but rather brown and white. This changes gradually and by the time the young zebras have reached their full size, they'll be completely black and white, just like the rest of their herd. All zebras have unique stripe patterns -- a little like human fingerprints -- which can help mothers recognize their offspring, and vice versa, even within large groups.
Bringing Up Baby
After giving birth to their foals, mother zebras keep them completely separate from the rest of the harem for two or three days. This allows the babies to learn to recognize their mother by sight, scent and sound. After all, it can get a little confusing when you're living amongst a sea of stripes. Young zebras are especially susceptible to attacks from wild dogs, hyenas, lions, cheetahs and leopards. Adults of the herd will sometimes form a circle around baby zebras, biting and kicking any predators that threaten them.
Baby zebras need their stripes from birth, as they're an important form of camouflage. Although they don't live in a black and white environment, it's the pattern -- rather than the color -- of zebras' stripes that helps them hide from predators. Lions, the main predators of zebras, are colorblind, so if a zebra stands still amongst tall grass, she's often not even spotted. Their stripes can also confuse potential predators. When they travel in herds they stick close together, and the pattern of one zebra's stripes appears to become merged in with the stripes of the zebra next to her. This makes it harder for predators to pick out an individual animal to attack.
- Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images