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Why do zebras have stripes? Candid Animal Cam visits the Serengeti

  • Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Camera traps bring you closer to the secretive natural world and are an important conservation tool to study wildlife. This week we’re meeting one of the most iconic African animals: the zebra.

The plains zebra (Equus quagga), also known as the common zebra, is one of the three species of zebra that exist in Africa. Being the most abundant of the three, they live in grasslands from South Sudan and southern Ethiopia extending south along eastern Africa, as far as Botswana and South Africa. With their black and white stripes, zebras are one of the most recognizable animals in the world. A 2012 study suggests that the coat pattern polarizes light in such a way that it discourages biting flies from landing on the zebras’ fur — and zebras live in areas with very high fly activity.

The plains zebra is a highly social species, forming harems with a single stallion, several mares and their recent offspring. As there is safety in numbers, to avoid predation by lions, hyenas, cheetahs, or African wild dogs, sometimes, and especially during migrations, multiple harems and bachelor groups come together to form larger herds of hundreds of animals. Even though the plains zebra is common in game reserves, outside of them it is threatened by habitat loss due to human encroachment, agricultural practices, and livestock grazing, and competition with livestock. Zebras are also hunted for their meat. As of 2016, they are classified as near threatened by the IUCN.

Special thanks to Meredith Palmer for sharing this footage with us. Dr. Palmer is a researcher at Princeton University using camera traps to study how prey animals (like wildebeest, zebra, and impala) respond to complex carnivore guilds and the reintroduction of locally-extinct predators (like lions, cheetah, hyena, leopards, and African wild dogs). The camera traps are triggered to play predator sounds when triggered, and then video record animal responses. They were deployed in the Serengeti ecosystem in 2019.

Banner photo courtesy of Dr. Meredith S. Palmer/Snapshot Serengeti.


Romi Castagnino is Mongabay’s bilingual writer. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @romi_castagnino

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