Horses around the world

Once found in abun­dance and now an en­dan­gered species, Julie Brown meets these stripy won­ders

Your Horse (UK) - - Editor’s Letter -

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.

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