Zebras are among the most famous mammals on the African continent, thanks to their distinct black and white stripes on their bodies. The stripes on a zebra are similar to your fingerprints; each zebra has its own unique pattern. Zebras also live in small groups; which various carnivores will take advantage of to eat some of them.
The main predators of the zebra are Nile crocodiles, spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards, and African lions. Additionally, humans also pose a threat to the survival of the zebra, although it is not as frequent as with the carnivores living in their areas.
Zebras are equids, which is a term referring to long-living mammals that have teeth specifically to handle chopping and grinding grass, and the animals move quickly considering their large body size. Zebra species come in three types, which you can find in Eastern and Southern Africa: the Grevy’s zebra, the plains zebra, and the mountain zebra.
Also referred to as the ‘king of beasts’, the lion is among the most famous wild animals since the earliest times of humanity. Its highest activity occurs at night, and it has a wide habitat distribution that includes open woodlands, dense scrubs, savannas, and grasslands, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Lions have unique hunting behaviors when compared to other members of the cat family. They hunt in prides instead of the solitary approach many cats prefer, and they will spend the day in these groupings when sharing meals. They prey on a wide variety of animals, from small-size rodents to large animals like buffalos, but their main meals consist of medium-size hoofed animals like antelopes, wildebeests, and zebras.
These prides are controlled by a group of related lionesses, with the males coming and going according to need. The lion will usually favor hunting for zebras and other prey over thick scrubs and open woodlands, as this allows them to get close to their targets without the prey spotting them. Additionally, they tend to feed after every 3 to 4 days, with each feeding session requiring a meat consumption of 5 to 7 kg for each lion.
Lions can hunt for zebras using either a solitary or a group approach, since their size is big enough to allow them to kill these herbivores without much struggle. If they choose to hunt in a pride, the teams will divide their roles; some will stalk the animal, and others will kill the prey. This strategy works even when killing zebras that are healthy, strong adults. Due to their body size, lions are not as fast as some of their target prey, so they will mostly rely on surprising their prey when they go on a hunt.
Cheetahs are beautiful animals; and they are fast. Their distinction lies in their lean bodies, as well as their running speeds that can reach between 60 and 70 miles an hour. However, their prey chasing speeds are about half of this speed, and the cheetah must rest for about half an hour to rest after a chase. They also require quite some space to thrive: this includes having a good savanna or grassland habitat, few numbers of other predators, and sufficient food quantities. Cheetahs do not live in prides, although male cheetah siblings will form ‘coalitions’ and remain in these groupings for life. On the other hand, females live on their own, except for the times they are caring for their cubs.
Contrary to the approach most cats take, cheetahs will hunt differently by avoiding attacks or ambushes until they are within their optimal springing distance. It is common to find them walking silently across their habitats or climbing vantage points like low-lying tree branches and termite mounds to help them see their prey.
They can stalk their target for hours or spot it within seconds, and the cheetah will sprint at a distance between 230 and 330 feet, or 70 and 100 meters once they locate a particular target. The aim is for the chase to last a maximum of one minute; if the chase lasts longer than that, the cheetah will leave the animal alone. They will usually do their hunts after every few days, even after catching good-size animals like impalas.
They will mainly rely on theirexcellent eyesight levels to spot prey in the daytime, their raw speeds,as well as their coat that helps them to camouflage in the grass that makes it difficult for prey to see. This is different from other hunters that rely on smell to spot their prey. Their main diet consists of medium and small-size animals such as gazelles, baby zebras, wildebeest calves, and impalas, but they will rarely go for bigger mammals like adult zebras as prey unless they are hunting in packs.
It is important to note that cheetahs are apex predators, and will eat a variety of animals other than zebra; including young wildebeests, rabbits, gazelles, and antelopes. While a cheetah is good at hunting these animals, they do not defend it very well; instead they also provide food for scavengers and other animals.
Spotted hyenas are widely known for scavenging on the foods of other animals, similar to their other two hyena subspecies, the striped hyena and the brown hyena. Despite their dog-like appearance, cats are their closest relation in animal classifications.
However, they do not just stick to scavenging to get their food, contrary to popular opinion, but will occasionally hunt for foods and are very skilled hunters as well. They have sharp eyesight and excellent hearing abilities, which helps them when they hunt during nighttime, and they can also run for long distances without getting exhausted.
Their hunting strategy is in large packs of 80 animals or more, which will effectively work together in isolating their target animal and pursuing it until it dies; usually a sick, very young, or old animal. They will then squabble over the spoils or fight for their share among other powerful predators like lions. It can also choose to hunt in smaller 5 to 7 hyena groupings or alone. Thanks to its opportunistic diet preferences and adaptability, it is among the most successful animals and one of the most common large carnivores on the continent.
They are not picky eaters either, and can eat birds and reptiles, aside from zebras. Their main diets will mostly consist of animals weighing more than 40 pounds, including goats, sheep, and cattle. For moderate-size prey like zebras, they tend to hunt in smaller groups of between two and five hyenas.
African wild dogs
This animal is a fierce predator that you will find in a variety of habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, including open savanna plains and dense forests. Like zebras, each wild dog has its own unique spot pattern on its coat, though most of them will have white-tipped tails to make it easier for them to find each other when hunting. Moreover, they have four toes on each foot rather than the five toes you would find in most dogs, and their big, round ears are part of their distinctive appearance.
Unlike most hunters in their habitat, they tend to be hyper carnivores; this means that their diets consist of more than 70% meat. While they prefer hunting antelopes, they will also go for birds, rodents, and mammals like warthogs, wildebeest, zebras, and wildebeests. The size of the prey determines their hunting strategy: for small and medium-size animals like zebras and antelopes, they will sneak up to their target and then run it down while biting its legs repeatedly to weaken it.
A wild dog has excellent stamina and speed, as it can run a maximum of 66 kilometers per hour and chases down its target for up to one hour without stopping. Due to these factors, wild dogs have a success rate of between 60 and 90% when hunting for their kill.
Nile crocodiles are notorious among humans and animals alike, thanks to their large size and high adaptation abilities. They are among the largest crocodile species, and are apex aquatic predators as well; while their main diet consists of fish, they will eat anything that crosses their path, whether it is zebras, wildebeest, and even humans.
Their predatory behavior can be tricky to study because crocodiles and their related counterparts like caimans and alligators do not eat frequently due to their slow metabolisms, and they also use an ambush hunting strategy to get their prey. That means that observing their hunting is accidental in many cases, since their preferred habitats are overgrown and murky waters in lakes, swamps, and rivers.
However, long-term observations of their strategies reveal a highly sophisticated method, as their social structure allows them to take on different roles when hunting zebras or any other animal. For instance, the larger crocodiles in a group will tend to go to the deeper parts of the water where the prey cannot see them, while a group of more agile and smaller crocodiles block any escape routes the zebra may use. Another option is to use one large crocodile to scare the target, then two smaller ones hiding in possible routes and ambushing the target.
Can zebras defend themselves from predators?
In general, zebras are always on the lookout for danger especially when they are in their herds. When they sense the presence of a predator, they will make high-pitched sounds that act as an alarm system for their herd. During the nighttime hours when most of their predators are active, one zebra will always stay awake to watch out for danger signs.
When they are facing danger, zebras have more than enough strategies to defend themselves: including pushing their enemy, biting, and kicking. If they see a member of their harem is under attack, they will come to its defense and ward off the predator by forming a circle around it, or choose to run away if the danger is significant.
The human threats to zebra survival
As we mentioned earlier in the article, there are three subspecies of the zebra. Their differences lie in their geographic distribution, social behavior, and their coats. Despite the contrasts among the three, however, humans throughout their habitat range have affected their populations significantly; in many cases, even more than the relatively few predators the zebra has.
Thanks to the spread of human settlements, humans are now threatening the animal through increasing competition for resources, habitat losses, and poaching. To understand each threat, it is important to know some facts regarding the zebra subspecies and what makes them vulnerable to these changes.
Competition with livestock and habitat losses
Because of human encroachment and agricultural expansion, there is increasing habitat loss for zebras that ultimately affects their populations. This is particularly evident on the southern parts of the African continent, as humans are now raising livestock and setting up farms in areas previously inhabited by zebras.
All zebra populations have gone through declines due to these issues, although the Grevy’s zebras show the biggest effects of the issue. While they were spread out in East Africa for hundreds of years, they are now confined to specific areas.
The problem may seem too deep to solve, but there is a possible solution that works very well: engaging with the local communities living in the zebra habitat zones and getting them involved in conservation efforts. The reason behind the increasing human settlements in these areas is because the communities had very few incentives or reasons to preserve the wildlife in their areas, as it did not give them any financial benefits; however, sensitizing the communities and ensuring they gain benefits from the animals will encourage them to conserve it.
The many effects of global warming are taking their toll all over the world, and even though most of it is due to various human activities, both humans and wildlife are experiencing negative changes. Thanks to rising temperatures, many habitats housing different animals are going through disruptions, and ecosystems are under destruction.
In particular, the savanna habitats the zebras and their predators live in is under major risks of drought, since these areas receive less annual rainfall. The changes in rainfall patterns as well as overgrazing have changed the habitats that the zebra lives in, causing its population to go through significant declines when attempting to compete with other animals for water and food.
While different zebras will face different threats, the threat of hunting particularly affects two types of zebra: the mountain zebra and the plains zebra. Plains zebra have the widest distribution as they live throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, while the mountain zebras are found in Southern Africa. The third type of zebra, the Grevy’s zebra, is only found in the East Africa and does not face hunting threats due to its low numbers.
Since mountain zebras live in tougher conditions and they do not have horns, they do not experience much of ‘trophy hunting’ in the same way the plains zebra does. Rather than horns, the quality of their hide is what makes them attractive targets, because many hunters and markets desire zebra rugs and other items that showcase their unusual skins.
Since hunting is legal in many countries, this has led to the increase of hunting lodges that offer hunting packages that include tools, transportation, permits, licenses, and accommodation fees. They make major profits trading in zebra skins and body parts, and encourage the hunting of these animals for their skins and meat.
To reduce the problem, there should be legislation and strict implementation of laws regarding hunting lodges and making them less accessible. Additionally, the increase in setting aside land spaces specifically to create zebra conservancies and engaging local communities is important.
Significant human threats to different zebra species
Overhunting and habitat losses. Otherwise, there are no major threats to their survival in a habitat because of their resilience. In specific terms, the northern half of the continent has more concerns about poaching and the southern half has more habitat loss problems.
While they experienced poachingfor their skins as a major threat, their present threat is farming activities and livestock production because this prevents their access to water and food.
These are mainly degradation that is caused by overgrazing and habitat loss. Other threats include diseases, hunting, competition for resources, and reduction of available water sources. The number of threats they face makes them the most endangered zebra species.
Zebras are smart animals that have learnt to survive in their habitats, but that does not make them immune to danger from predators and humans alike. While they may not have as many enemies among animals, humans pose a greater threat to their survival.
What are the weight differences among zebra species?
The largest of the three is the Grevy’s zebra, weighing up to 1,000 pounds. The plains zebra is the smallest, weighing up to 850 pounds, and the mountain zebra is slightly heavier at a maximum of 950 pounds.
What is the major predator of a zebra?
African lions are the most common zebra predator, while leopards also occasionally kill and eat zebras despite their primary preferences for impalas and antelopes.