Timid and restless – they invariably bolt from a water hole after drinking – Burchell’s zebra are also noisy and very excitable. Their piercing whinny kwa-ha! kwa-ha! is identical to that of the now-extinct quagga. Under attack from predators, males will compromise their own safety as they courageously take a protective rearguard position while the rest of the group flees. In very large herds stallions will also form a defensive line along the flanks. The Burchell’s habit of keeping close to herds of grazing wildebeest is probably not coincidental: this strategy increases its chances of survival, as most predators prefer eating wildebeest. You may also see zebras fraternising with other species of sociable antelope and ostrich. Zebra stallions and their mates are fiercely protective of their young: in average breeding herds (small family groups) of 3 -7 animals, the stallion and his mares will use bared teeth and flailing hooves to attack and maul threatening lions and hyaenas. Young or surplus stallions form bachelor herds. A single foal is born.
Herds of Burchell’s Zebra galloping across the plains, with their magnificent shining coats and rounded bodies rocking in the sun, are one of the truly magnificent spectacles of the southern African subcontinent. Their characteristic striped coats make them easily recognizable: they are distinguishable from the two species of mountain zebra by the yellowish or greyish shadow stripes between the stripes on their rumps, the absence of a dewlap, and the stripes which continue under the belly, although no two individuals are exactly alike. The function of their stripes has led to much speculation: it may provide a form of camouflage under certain light conditions, or may confuse a predator as to their direction of movement, particularly when close up. They are mainly grazers, but will occasionally browse and feed on herbs.