Lets face it, a zebra looks like a sturdy, stripy horse, but common sense says there must be more to it than that. Why? Because modern horses are believed to have originated around south-eastern Europe, while zebras are clearly from Africa.
So, what are the differences between horses and zebras?
Lets start with a few rough facts. The scientific name of a horse is Equus ferus caballus. It is a hoofed mammal and a subspecies of the seven extant species of the Equidae family. Over the past 45 to 55 million years the horse has developed from a small multi-toed creature to a large one toed animal. The domestication of horses started around 4000 BC.
Three species of zebras are in existence today, the Plains Zebra, the Mountain Zebra and the Grevy’s Zebra. The Plains Zebra and the Mountain Zebra belongs to the subgenus Hippotigris while Grevy’s Zebra belong to the Dolichopus species. This is similar to an ass while Plains and Mountain Zebras are quite close to horses.
Zebras don't have a hairy tail like a horse does and their mane always sticks straight up. Also, the grevy's zebra is a little different because they've got a Roman nose, and very large ears (not horse like at all). Also, the structure of a zebra is much more pony-like being half leg and half body in height. Most horses are longer in the leg than they are in body.
Zebras are found in a variety of locations like savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, mountains, hills and scrub lands. Certain anthropogenic factors have affected the population of zebras. Hunting zebras for skins and destroying lands have affected zebra population. The Grevy’s and Mountains Zebra are considered as endangered species.
Apart form the size, shape and stripes, there are a number of distinguishing features between a horses and zebras.
1. The bone structure of both the animals is different. Zebras possess solid tails unlike a horses.
2. The anatomy of a horse makes them use speed to run away from predators. They have a well developed sense of balance, and a powerful fight or flight attitude inside them. Like horses, zebras walk, trot, canter and gallop. They are generally slower than horses, but their great stamina helps them outpace predators. When chased, a zebra will zig-zag from side to side, making it more difficult for the predator. When cornered, the zebra will rear up and kick or bite its attacker.
3. Zebras have excellent eyesight. It is believed that they can see in colour. Zebras also have night vision, although not as advanced as that of most of their predators.
4. Zebras have excellent hearing, and tend to have larger, rounder ears than horses. Like horses and other ungulates, zebra can turn their ears in almost any direction. In addition to eyesight and hearing, zebras have an acute sense of smell and taste.
5. Female zebras mature earlier than the males, and a mare may have her first foal by the age of three. Males are not able to breed until the age of five or six. Mares may give birth to one foal every twelve months. She nurses the foal for up to a year. Like horses, zebras are able to stand, walk and suckle shortly after they are born. A zebra foal is brown and white instead of black and white at birth.
6. Horses, particularly colts, sometimes are physically capable of reproduction at about 18 months, but domesticated horses are rarely allowed to breed before the age of three, especially females. Horses four years old are considered mature, although the skeleton normally continues to develop until the age of six; maturation also depends on the horse's size, breed, sex, and quality of care.
CAN ZEBRAS BREED WITH HORSES?
A zebroid is the generic name for all zebra hybrids. The different hybrids are generally named using the portmanteau convention of sire's name + the dam's name.
There is generally no distinction made as to which zebra species is used. It has been found that when zebras are cross-bred, they often develop some form of dwarfism. Breeding of different branches of the equine family, which does not occur in the wild, generally results in infertile offspring. The combination of sire and dam will also affects the offspring.
A zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse. This cross is also called a zebrula, zebrule, zebra mule or golden zebra. The rarer reverse pairing is sometimes called a horbra, hebra, zebrinny or zebret. Like most other animal hybrids, the zorse is sterile.
A zony is the offspring of a zebra stallion and a pony mare. Medium-sized pony mares are preferred to produce riding zonies, but zebras have been crossed with smaller pony breeds such as the Shetland, resulting in so-called "Zetlands".
A zonkey is a cross between a zebra and a donkey, although 'zonkey' is not the technically correct name for such a cross. The most commonly accepted terms are zebonkey (or zebronkey), zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, and zedonk (or zedonk). Another name that is sometimes used is 'zebadonk'. Donkeys are closely related to zebras and both animals belong to the horse family. Zonkeys are very rare. In South Africa, they occur where zebras and donkeys are found in proximity to each other. Like mules, however, they are generally genetically unable to breed, due to an odd number of chromosomes disrupting meiosis.
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