Most of us know that the stripe pattern of a zebra is much like our fingerprints – no two are alike and even the left side is different from the right.
Different species also have distinctly different stripe patterns, in other words you can tell their “nationality”; if you see a zebra with a grid iron pattern on its rump and stripes all the way down it’s legs, you’ll be in Angola, Namibia or South Africa looking at the Mountain Zebra, spot one with very narrow stripes and an apparent bull’s eye on its rump and you’ll be looking at the massive Grevy’s Zebra in the arid areas of Ethiopia, Somalia or Kenya. While on safari with ADS in Tanzania, you’ll see the Burchell’s Zebra. This zebra has shadow stripes which run between the black stripes on its torso. Interestingly the completeness and boldness of its stripe pattern decreases as you move further south from the equator.
I’ve periodically watched a large group of zebra explode from a water hole in a cloud of dust, only to later re-group into individual families and trot off into the sunset. How do they find each other when they all seem to look exactly the same-at least to us anyway? Incredibly in addition to their smell, zebra are able to recognize other individuals based on their stripe pattern. The question is how can we possibly know this strange fact?
The stripe pattern of a mare is such a critical component of a newborn foal being able to imprint on its mother, that they mare will shield the youngster from other zebras for the first few hours of its life so it cannot imprint on the “wrong zebra”. It is thought that the particular stripe pattern on the face (between the eyes and nose) and shoulder are the most important.
When you’re on safari with ADS and are looking at these striped beauties, sooner or later you’re bound to wonder Hmmmm “are they black with white stripes or white with black stripe”. Curious? Keep an eye open for my next posting which also includes a fascinating fact about a zebra’s built-in air-conditioning system.