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Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) Fact Sheet: Summary

Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) Fact Sheet

two Plains Zebra

Plains Zebra (Equus quagga)

Image credit: © B. Dupont from Flickr. Some rights reserved.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla

Family: Equidae

Genus: Equus

Species: Equus quagga

**Subspecies: E. q. boehmi
Subspecies: E. q. borensis
Subspecies: E. q. burchellii
Subspecies: E. q. chapmani
Subspecies: E. q. crawshayi
Subspecies: E. q. quagga (extinct)
SubspeciesE. q. zambeziensis

**Taxonomic note: Subspecies listed based on morphological characteristics. Genetic studies have yielded new insights, but subspecies designations still being refined by taxonomists.

Body Weight
Male: 220-373 kg (480-882 lb)
Female: 273-387 kg (602-853 lb)

Head and Body Length
Male: 2365-2675 mm (7.8-8.8 ft)
Female: 2250-2600 mm (7.4-8.5 ft)

Tail Length
Male: 430-515 mm (1.4-1.7 in)
Female: 430-490 mm (1.4-1.6 in)

Pelage: Short, dense black and white hair. Striped pattern variable from one individual to another, with overall regional differences as well. Northern
populations with more prominent stripes due to reduction in shadow stripes (brownish stripes in between black and white bands).

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range: Most widespread distribution of all wild equids. Eastern and Southern Africa.

Habitat: Habitat generalist. Found in grasslands and grassland-bushland or grassland-woodland mosaics.

IUCN Status: Near Threatened (2016 assessment)

CITES Appendix: not listed

Population in Wild: No recent estimates. Estimates of 796,000 - 1,326,000 in 2002.

Locomotion: Walk, trot, gallop, and run. Styles similar to those naturally occurring in horses. Swim to cross rivers and streams. 

Activity Cycle: Diurnal; travel, feed, and socialize in daylight. Sleep in groups at night.

Social Groups: Live in family groups known as harems; composed of a single adult stallion (male), one or more adult mares (females), and their offspring. Harems often aggregate to form large herds, though typically each lives independently of one another.

Diet: Mostly grasses. Survive on bark and other coarse vegetation in times of famine.

Predators: Adults taken by lions and large packs of spotted hyena. Cheetah, African wild dog, and leopard take foals. Nile crocodile opportunistically kill zebra.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity: Stallions 4-5 yrs, mate only after forming own harem. Mares mature at 1-3 yrs, though typically first reproduce at 3-4 yrs of age.

Gestation: 360-396 days, typically c.375 days

Litter Size: 1 most often; twins extremely rare

Birth Weight: 30-35 kg (66-77 lb)

Age at Weaning: 9 months

Typical Life Expectancy:
Managed care: median life expectancy of about 17 years

Feature Facts

  • Distinctive black and white coats of zebras can be used to identify individuals over time and space. May be used for protection and thermoregulation.
  • Physically and behaviorally similar to the domestic horse
  • Adapted for long-distance travel
  • Females live within a social group that is led by a single male stallion (harem).
  • Exhibit complex behaviors that serve to reinforce relationships between group members
  • Members greet, groom, and play with one another
  • Nostrils close tight to prevent inhalation of dust
  • Species origins traced to North America
  • First plains zebra on exhibit with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in 1924

About This Fact Sheet

© 2015-2019 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Updated April 2015. Taxonomy, IUCN Status and population estimates updated Apr 2019.

How to cite: Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) Fact Sheet. c2015-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. plains_zebra. (note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to


We are grateful to John Register for providing content review of this fact sheet.

John is currently the Hoofed Stock Supervisor with Houston Zoo and serves as the AZA Studbook Keeper and is the Program Leader for this species SSP.

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