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Zebra Burchell's

Zebras, with the cheeky way they trot and their mesmerising stripes, are great animals to watch and photograph. The most common is the plains, or Burchell’s zebras. Their distant cousins, the Cape mountain zebras, are not nearly as plentiful, and a few decades ago they nearly became extinct.

Burchell's zebra is a southern subspecies of the plains zebra. It is named after the British explorer and naturalist William John Burchell. Common names include bontequagga, Damara zebra, and Zululand zebra.

The southern Burchell’s Zebra has a distinctive shadow brown stripe in the white stripe, a characteristic which diminishes the further north they occur. Body stripes are less numerous and broader than that of the Cape Mountain Zebra, whereas body stripes extend around the belly. Leg striping is less prominent. 


  1. Of all creatures in a typical zoo, zebras are the most likely to bite zookeepers.
  2. There are two species of zebra in South Africa. One is so common it is startling to find a nature reserve or park without it. The other had a brief and almost calamitous flirtation with extinction.
  3. The Burchell’s zebra is the species you’ll see almost everywhere. Also known as the plains zebra, it favours the largest ecosystem in the country – savannah.
  4. Its distinguishing characteristics include a distinct portliness, a shadow stripe between the black stripes, and a fading of the markings on the leg and sometimes the rump. It is also unmistakably horsey. Anyone familiar with equine body language will immediately understand the dynamics of a zebra herd.
  5. Burchell's zebra migrates the longest distance of any terrestrial animal in Africa, traveling 160 miles one way. They migrate from the Chobe River in Namibia to Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana. Their migration follows a straight north–south route almost entirely within the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
  6. The Burchell’s Zebra is the closest relative to the extinct Quagga which roamed the southern plains of South Africa until the 19th century, so close in fact that scientists are using DNA from chosen individual to attempt to bring the Quagga back.
  7. Zebra groups are either in bachelor groups or ‘harem’ groups, led by a dominant stallion.
  8. Burchell's zebra is the only subspecies of zebra which may be legally farmed for human consumption in the UK.
  9. Unlike many fussier grazers, Burchell’s zebras are happy to chew on whatever grass is in front of them. The reason they can digest it is thanks to a kind of bacteria that lives in their digestive tracts. The same bacteria also bloats their stomachs somewhat – hence their portliness, even during the gravest droughts.


The reason zebras have stripes has been the subject of many theories, all of which may have an element of truth to them.

  1. The stripes confuse predators trying to cut individual animals out of a herd, says one theory.
  2. The tiny convection currents between white and black stripes keeps them cooler in summer, goes another.
  3. Because each zebra’s markings are slightly different, it is a kind of distinctive bar-code that helps foals identify their mothers, says a third.
  4. A fourth theory was the subject of a study in 2012 that showed that blood-sucking flies bite striped pelts the least. The stripes seem to reflect light in a way that confuses the flies’ eyes. It seems even tiny creatures can affect evolution.


Plains Zebra range from South Sudan and southern Ethiopia, east of the Nile River, to southern Angola and northern Namibia and northern South Africa (formerly ranging south of the Orange and Vaal Rivers to the Cape).

The six morphologically defined subspecies are distributed as follows (following Groves and Bell 2004):

  1. E. q. crawshaii (Crawshay’s Zebra) occurs in Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, Malawi, south-eastern Tanzania from Lake Rukwa east to Mahungoi, and Mozambique as far south as the Gorongoza district;
  2. E. q. borensis ranges in north-west Kenya, from Guas ngishu and Lake Baringo, to the Karamoja district of Uganda and south-east South Sudan, east of the Nile River to the northern limit of the species at 32°N;
  3. E. q. boehmi (Grant’s Zebra or Boehm's Zebra) is found in Zambia, west of the Luangwa River, west to Kariba, Shaba Province of DR Congo north to Kibanzao Plateau; Tanzania north from Nyangaui and Kibwezi into south-west Uganda, south-west Kenya as far as Sotik, and east Kenya, east of the Rift Valley, into southern Ethiopia and perhaps to the Juba River in Somalia.
  4. E. q. chapmani (Chapman's Zebra) ranges from north-east South Africa, from about 24°S, 31°E, north to Zimbabwe, west into Botswana at about 19°S, 24°E, the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, and southeastern Angola (east of the Cubango river);
  5. E. q. burchellii (Burchell's Zebra) formerly occurred north of the Vaal/Orange Rivers, extending north-west via southern Botswana to Etosha National Park and the Kaokoveld, south-east to KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland, and in southwestern Angola. It is now extinct in the middle of its range. E. b. antiquorum is now included in this subspecies;
  6. E. q. quagga (Quagga) occurred in the former Cape Province, south of the Orange and Vaal Rivers and west of the Drakensberg. Now extinct.