Wednesday is International Zebra Day.
We don't know who created this day, or why. But here at KidsPost we think all animals deserve their own special day. And zebras, which belong to the horse family, are pretty special, as you'll discover below.
1. Zebras live in eastern and southern Africa. There are three species: plains, mountain and Grevy's. Of these, the Grevy's zebra is the largest. An adult can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds and have as many as 80 stripes.
2. Are zebras white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? A zebra's skin is black, but its coat is both black and white. The white stripes lack pigment to color the hair. Young zebras often have brown stripes, which darken later.
3. Every zebra has its own stripe pattern. Just like our fingerprints, no two are the same. A newborn zebra can tell its mother by, among other things, her stripes. This is called imprinting.
4. Why are zebras striped? Scientists give several possible reasons: The stripes confuse predators, repel insects, reduce body heat and help zebras tell one another apart. Zebras seem to like their stripes. If black and white stripes are painted on a wall, zookeepers say, a zebra will probably stand next to the wall.
5. Zebras have owllike eyesight and good hearing. They can run at a speed of 35 miles per hour. Zebras move quickly in search of food and safety. A baby will begin to walk within 20 minutes of birth and start to run within an hour.
6. Zebras graze on grass and other plants for most of the day. This wears their teeth down, so their teeth keep growing all their lives. Zebras can live 20 to 25 years in the wild or 25 to 30 years in human care.
7. Plains and mountain zebras travel in herds, with no specific territories. If an animal is attacked, the others try to save it. Grevy's zebras do not have the same bonds. Males, called stallions, mark their territory, and females, or mares, come there to breed. Once the foals are old enough to travel, they move on with their mothers.
8. Zebras can migrate up to 1,800 miles for food.
9. Zebras bark, bray and snort to communicate. They also use body language. Bared teeth or flattened ears mean back off or risk being kicked by their powerful back legs.
10. Hunting and habitat loss have greatly reduced zebra numbers. Grevy's zebras, with about 2,500 in the wild, are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Mountain zebras (about 25,000 in the wild) are listed as vulnerable. And plains zebras (about 500,000) are listed as near threatened.
If you live in or near Washington, you are in luck. The Smithsonian's National Zoo has three. Moyo, a male Grevy's zebra, lives at the zoo, which is free and open year-round. In Front Royal, Virginia, the zoo's conservation center has male and female Hartmann's mountain zebras named Raylan and Xolani. The public can visit just one day this year, so mark your calendar for October 6 if you want to go. More information is at nationalzoo.si.edu and 202-633-4888.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has three plains zebras: Addie and sisters Stella and Phoenix. For zoo hours, directions and ticket prices, visit marylandzoo.org or call 410-396-7102.