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Zebra Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Every year, thousands of zebras' travel in a huge herd across the Serengeti plains of Africa in search of food and water. These social, strong animals have many interesting characteristics. Let's learn about them in this lesson on the zebra.

The Zebra

Do you think a zebra looks a little like a horse? That's because it is a member of the horse family. Like horses, zebras have a mane going down their necks, which has short hairs that stand up straight. They run as fast as a horse, too. But you will probably agree that a zebra's black and white stripes make it stand out from other horses.

Habitat and Eating

Zebras live only in Africa, except for zoos, of course. They are at home in grasslands, semi-desert areas, mountains, and woodlands. They eat mostly grass, but also feed on leaves, small bushes, herbs, twigs, and bark.

Africa has three different kinds of zebras: Grevy's zebras, mountain zebras, and plains zebras. They have a different stripe pattern depending on where they are from. In fact, the farther south you travel in Africa, the farther apart the stripes on zebras are!

Zebras run very fast and zig-zag away from predators like the lion. They can also run for long periods of time.
predator

Stripes

A zebra's stripes are actually very special. Each zebra has its very own stripe pattern, just like every human has his own fingerprint. No two are alike!

This is one way zebras recognize each other, along with smell and the sound of their voices. When a zebra is born, for instance, its mother keeps it away from other zebras for the first 2-3 days until the foal can recognize her voice, smell, and how she looks.

Each zebra has its own special stripe pattern.
stripes

Close Families

Zebras are very social animals and care a lot about each other. They form family harems led by one male stallion with several females, called mares, and their young. Harems also join other groups to form larger herds, but they always travel close to their family members.

Mares are also very caring and protective of their foals. All foals are close to their mothers, but male foals also form special bonds with their fathers. Zebras groom each other, and if one gets lost the family will spend many days looking for it.

The stallion (top) leads the harem. Zebras are born with brown and white stripes.
harem

Staying Safe

Zebras stay close together for protection from predators, as well. They even sleep only standing up in a group, with one zebra staying awake to stand guard. When traveling, the stallion stays behind the harem to keep an eye out for lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards.

Zebra stripes also help protect them because when zebras stand close together, it is more difficult for a predator to single out just one zebra. But when that does happen, caring family members surround a wounded zebra and try to kick and chase the predators away.

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