Horses around the world
Once found in abundance and now an endangered species, Julie Brown meets these stripy wonders
The endangered Grevy’s zebra
IF YOU’RE EVER LUCKY enough to spot an adult male Grevy’s prowling around his territory, you’ll get some understanding of just how majestic these zebras are. So much so that in 1882, Menelik II, Emperor of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) thought they were so regal, he presented one as a gift to the President of France, Jules Grévy — hence the name. The treeless grasslands of Ethiopia and northern Kenya are home to the Grevy’s, with a small population introduced in southern Kenya too. Sadly, the numbers of these zebras declined dramatically in the 1970s when their coats became a most-wanted fashion item. In the 1980s there were 15,000 left, with this crashing to around 2,500 today. Thankfully, there are now laws in place to protect them, and a longer-term conservation strategy has been developed by the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. Of course, zebras are all about the stripes and the sleek coat of the Grevy’s is patterned with black and white vertical ones, much narrower than those of other zebras. These finish at the hindlegs and a chevron pattern takes over. The horizontal stripes on the legs remain distinct all the way down to the hooves, and the tall, upright mane is also striped. A distinctive wide black stripe sits along the back and is bordered by white on the rump and belly. The large, round ears have one thick black stripe on the back, with white tips. Closer to an ass than a horse, the Grevy’s has adapted well to its arid environment. The area they occupy is chosen with the needs of the females in mind — water, forage and a stallion to watch over them. Grevy’s drink every five days and only at night, but when the mare is lactating she will need to take on water every other day, so those stallions with water in their territory are more successful at breeding. They mark the boundaries of their territory by vocalising loudly and creating dung piles, which are topped up regularly so there’s no mistaking he’s at home. Foals are born after 13 months and are all legs and ears. Their arrival is usually timed with the onset of rain, with peaks seen in May and June, where there are long periods of rain, and during November and December, when it falls in short bursts. Foals can stand after six minutes and run after 45. Only if it’s not breeding season will bachelor males be tolerated by the stallion, and he will lead the herd for around seven years before letting a younger male take over.