Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Active day and night

  • Spend about 50% of time grazing (Klingel 1990)
    • Horses in general spend about 7 hours out of 24 sleeping (Estes 1991)
  • Activity pattern (Churcher 1993)
    • Early morning: mixed herds of Grevy's and other species of grazing mammals go to water
    • Morning: graze away from water
    • Mid-day: rest in shade
    • Mid-afternoon: go to water
    • Overnight: graze away from water

Home Range

Individuals can be highly mobile (from Moehlman et al. 2008)

  • Cover large distances in search of water
    • May travel > 80 km (50 mi)
  • Non-territorial individuals occupy a home range up to 10,000 sq km (3,861 sq mi)
    • 2 to 12 km sq (0.8-4.6 sq mi) for breeding males

Social Groups

Non-social (from Klingel 1974)

  • No permanent social bonds between adults
    • No herd system
    • Females and males without territories may form temporary grazing groups
      • Groups have no leaders; when walking any animal may lead
  • Mothers and young form temporary social units
    • Females with young may form nursery groups of up to 50 individuals
    • Females move freely in or out of nursery groups
    • Female groups are the result of ecological conditions and a female's reproductive condition
  • Territorial mating system
    • Only territorial males mate with females
    • Mating occurs only when environmental conditions are good
      • Similar to social system of the African Wild Ass (E. africanus); stallions do not keep a herd
      • Contrasts with Plains and Mountain Zebras that live either in family groups or stallion groups

Social hierarchy

  • Hierarchy only apparent when individuals are within a male's territory
    • Territorial males dominate females, but only while in their territories
    • When walking (outside a territory), any one member, whether male or female, may lead
  • Mutual grooming is not common
    • Behavior occurs less often than in other equid species

Territorial Behavior

Territorial Behavior

  • Breeding males occupy large, year-round territories
    • May keep their territories as long as 7 years
      • Neither body size nor territory size correlate with male reproductive success
    • Stallions may leave territories during dry season to find water; return in no more than a few weeks.
    • Males with a territory will tolerate other males in their space until an estrus female appears; visiting male then evicted
      • Transient males are typically young and move through territories while searching for food or water
  • Males advertise to claim territory
    • Scent marking
      • Males urinate and deficate on dung piles
    • Vocalization
      • Males bray
        • Bray sounds like "a hippo's grunt combined with a donkey's wheeze" (Estes 1991)
    • Boundaries are to orient the owner, not to keep out other males


Female aggression

  • Aggressive when foal is very young
    • Females act aggressively towards all other zebras during first days of her foal's life
    • After foal imprints, she allows others to approach
  • Typically more aggressive towards other females than are Burchell's Zebras

Forms of aggression

  • Kick out the hindlimbs (together) in defense
    • Female stands with back toward attacker
  • Fighting behavior
    • Running, circling, neck-wrestling, biting and kicking
    • Rarely leads to serious injuries

Social Interactions


  • Common among foals
  • Forms of play
    • Run, jump, butt, and chase one another; may even interact with other species
    • Male foals have mock fights


Visual Signs/Displays      

  • Wide repertoire of facial expressions, as in all horses
  • Territorial Grevy's male signaling dominance
    • Proud posture with arched neck and high stepping gait
    • Head, neck, and ears forward to meet a challenger
    • Ears flattened, head raise, teeth bared as a threat
    • May flail with forelegs and bite when attacking
  • Non-territorial male signaling submission
    • Extended tail, lowered head; nuzzle dominant animal in chest or groin
  • Female when threatened
    • Turns back to threat, one hindleg raised (ready to kick)
  • Both sexes when about to threaten
    • Swish tail rapidly
    • Foal draws close to its mother if she gives this signal
  • Resting heads on a partner's rump
  • Female when ready to mate
    • Gives open-mouthed "smile"

Vocalization (Estes 1991)

Grevy's Zebra audio, provided by Volodins Bioacoustic Group (2010).

  • Species of horses all share about 5 primary calls
    • 2 alarm calls - loud snort, quiet gasp i-hah
    • Short squeal when kicked or bitten, and in greeting
    • Drawn out squeal when injured
    • Blowing with loose lips when content
  • Contact calls differ according to different equid species
    • Grevy's males (and wild asses) bray to announce territory boundaries, to repel another male, or to drive a female
    • Horses whinny
    • Plains Zebras bark

Olfaction/Scent Marking

  •  Males mark territorial boundaries with urine and dung piles (Klingel 1974)
    • Dung piles may reach height of 40 cm (16 in)
  • Greeting ceremonies, nose to nose, and nose to rear (Estes 1991)



  • Walk, trot, and gallop (Estes 1991)
    • Gallop or trot with heads-up gait (Plains Zebras canter or gallop with heads much lower) (Churcher 1993)
  • Speed
    • Can gallop at 55 km per hour (34 mph)

Interspecies Interactions


  • Targeted by large carnivores
    • Lions
    • Also leopards, spotted hyaenas, hunting dogs, and cheetah

Share habitat with the plans zebra (E. quagga burchelli)

  • Species occupy many of the same habitats in northern Kenya (Kenya's National Grevy's Zebra Task Force 2008)
    • Species form mixed herds, often on edge of range
    • Interbreeding may occur (Groves 1974)
    • Grevy's Zebras extended their range to include areas once occupied by Burchell's Zebras alone

Associate with other ungulates

  • Form mixed species herds with wildebeest, beisa oryx, waterbucks, kudu, eland, and giraffe
    • Horned species larger than zebras are dominant when Grevy's at water holes in mixed herds (Kingdon 1979)
  • Grevy's may obtain some protection from predators as a result of this association

Grevy's Zebra

two Grevy Zebra

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Churcher (1993)
Estes (1991)
Kingdon (1979)
Klingel (1974, 1990)
Groves (1974)
MacClintock (1976)
Moehlman et al (2008)

SDZWA Library Links