Eight things you might not have known about zebras, until now:
1 Zebras can move fast, up to 65mph in fact, which, when combined with superb stamina and some cunning zigzagging moves, means they can outrun most of the creatures that might want to eat them.
2 Zebras are relatively long-lived animals, clocking up between 20 and 30 years in the wild, and up to 40 in zoos.
3 Though never domesticated, zebras were once trained to pull chariots around the hippodromes of Ancient Rome.
4 Zebras are clever communicators. As well as oral expression (barks, whinnies and sniffing sounds), they also use facial expressions and the position of their ears and tails to convey how they feel. Beware the zebra with wide-open eyes, bared teeth and ears pulled backwards – he’s mad!
5 As the old Eddie Arnold song goes, a zebra looks like a horse in striped pyjamas. Turns out, zebras sleep like horses too, standing up and only when safe amongst the herd.
6 The herd means protection for a zebra, and the larger the herd the better, as then more ears and eyes are keeping watch. Other grazing animals like antelope and wildebeest are also welcome.
7 Talking of herds – what about that incredible spectacle, the annual 1800-mile migration of zebras, antelopes and wildebeest between Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s mighty Serengeti Plains?
8 And, finally, about those striped pyjamas – it seems zebras evolved stripes for a multitude of reasons: en masse in a herd, their stripes visually merge so predators have a tough job focusing on individual animals; stripes also distort distance in low light (i.e. at dawn and dusk); they’re a unique visual fingerprint helping zebras recognise each other; they’re a form of temperature control as stripes are believed to disperse around 70% of the sun’s heat; and new research has shown that their monochrome pattern confuses the visual systems of flies, thus helping to keep those annoying critters at bay.
My photographs of zebras were taken on the Serengeti Plains and in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania in 2014, at the end of a week-long trip with The Giving Lens, an organisation that combines photography workshops with mentoring, media and financial support for local NGOs.