Why do zebra stallions kill foals? - News - Gondwana Collection

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Why do zebra stallions kill foals?

Avatar of inke inke - 24. July 2017 - Environment

Why this Burchells zebra stallion killed the new born, has so far remained unexplained by scientists and behavioural researchers. In Namibia, this subspecies of the plains zebras is found mainly in the north of the country in national parks and communal areas, but also on numerous game farms in the country.

The new-born Burchell´s zebra stands next his mother on wobbly, thin legs. The mare is alert and scans across the endless grass covered plains west of Okaukuejo in the Etosha National Park. There are other mares and a stallion nearby. The Zebra mare sniffs at the new-born. Slowly the stallion approaches. Suddenly he tries to bite the new-born. The mother tries to push back the attacker and simultaneously trying to protect her foal with her striped body. The stallion does not give up, circling the mare and the foal and constantly snapping at the young zebra. A bite to the neck and the foal goes to the ground. The mare desperately tries to push the stallion back. Suddenly the stallion holds up the foal by the back with his strong jaws. The mother attacks the stallion, the foal falls to the ground. The uneven fight continues and within ten minutes everything is over. The new-born foal lies dead on the ground. The stallion is grazing a few metres away as though nothing has happened. 

Two hours later, the mare stands alone with her dead foal. The remaining members of the herd can be seen in the distance. The next morning only a few bones are testimony of the drama the day before. Hyenas and jackals have left little of the foal. None of the plain zebras can be seen in the area.

So far, no scientist has been able to interpret the behaviour. Few people have ever seen such an attack. It is believed that the stallion killed the foal as it was not his own and he would like to mate with the mare once she is ready for conception again. 

There are at least two Zebra species in Namibia: the Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchelli), one of the five subspecies of the plain´s zebras, and the Hartmann´s zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae), one of the two subspecies of mountain zebra. Both species are found in the Etosha National Park and can be also be seen on numerous game farms around the country. Both species are classified as special projected game in Namibia. The Hartmann´s mountain zebra is almost endemic because, excluding a small number in south-western Angola and north-east South Africa, the species occurs exclusively in the western arid and mountainous regions of Namibia.

With the Hartmann´s zebra, the stripes are present down to the hooves while the Burchell’s zebras have no stripes on their lower legs. In Burchell’s zebra, black stripes run under the belly and Hartmann´s zebra have no stripes on their tummy. Hartmann´s zebra are more compact than Burchell’s zebra and have a small dewlap on their throat. Additionally, the black stripes are usually finer than the Burchell’s zebra. In the Burchells there are often so-called, shadow stripes, which are mostly brownish in colour.

Zebra can be found in Namibian national parks, on commercial farms and in communal areas. They belong to the horse genus and to the horse family.

Dirk Heinrich

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