Burchell's zebra

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Burchell's zebra
Equus quagga burchellii - Etosha, 2014.jpg
Etosha National Park, Namibia

One or two shadow stripes rest between the bold, broad stripes on the haunch, a feature unique to the Burchell's or Damaraland zebra

Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
E. q. burchellii
Trinomial name
Equus quagga burchellii
Gray, 1824

Equus quagga antiquorum
(Smith, 1841)
Equus quagga zebroides
(Lesson, 1827)

Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) is a southern subspecies of the plains zebra. It is named after the British explorer and naturalist William John Burchell. Common names include the bontequagga, Damaraland zebra, and Zululand zebra (Gray, 1824).[1] Burchell's zebra is the only subspecies of zebra which may be legally farmed for human consumption.[2]

Physical characteristics[edit]

Male Burchell's zebra at Etosha National Park, Namibia.

Like most plains zebras, females and males are relatively the same size, standing 1.1 to 1.4 meters (3.75 to 4.6 feet) at the shoulder. They weigh between 485 to 550 pounds.[3] Year-round reproduction observed in this subspecies in Etosha National Park, Namibia, concludes synchronization of a time budget between males and females, possibly explaining the lack of sexual dimorphism.[4]

Damara zebras are described as being striped on the head, the neck, and the flanks, and sparsely down the upper segments of the limbs then fading to white.[5] One or two shadow stripes rest between the bold, broad stripes on the haunch.[5] This main, distinguishing characteristic sets the Zuzuland Zebra apart from the other subspecies. Gray (1824), observed a distinct dorsal line, the tail only bristly at the end, and the body distinctly white.[1] The dorsal line is narrow and becomes gradually broader in the hinder part, distinctly margined with white on each side.[1]


Burchell's zebra drinking at a waterhole at Etosha National Park

Like most plains zebras, Burchells live in small family groups. These can be either harem or bachelor groups, with harem groups consisting of one stallion and one to six mares and their most recent foals, and bachelor groups containing two to eight unattached stallions.[6] The males in bachelor herds are often the younger or older stallions of the population, as they are most likely not experienced enough or strong enough to defend breeding rights to a group of females from challengers. These small groups often congregate together in larger herds around water and food sources, but still maintain their identity as family units while in the population gatherings.[7]

Range and adaptation[edit]

Formerly, the Burchell's zebra range was centered north of the Vaal/Orange river system, extending northwest via southern Botswana to Etosha and the Kaokoveld, and southeast to Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal. Now extinct in the middle portion, it survives at the northwestern and southeastern ends of the distribution.[5]

Burchell's zebra migrates the longest distance of any terrestrial animal in Africa, traveling 160 miles one way.[8] They migrate from the Chobe River in Namibia to Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana.[8] Their migration follows a straight north–south route almost entirely within the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area[8] (KAZA).

Extinct subpopulation[edit]

Specimens from the extinct population, 1886.

Like other plains zebras, Burchell's zebras must have populated the African plains in impressive numbers. Associations of thousands have been reported. The wild herds were thought to have disappeared by 1910, and the last known captive individual died in the Berlin Zoo in 1918. As European settlement spread northward from the Cape to colonial southern Rhodesia, this subspecies was thought to have been hunted to extinction.

However, Groves and Bell concluded in their 2004 publication that "the extinct true Burchell's zebra" is a phantom.[9] Careful study of the original zebra populations in Zululand and Swaziland, and of skins harvested on game farms in Zululand and Natal, has revealed that a certain small proportion shows similarity to what now is regarded as typical burchellii. The type localities of the two subspecies Equus quagga burchellii (Burchell's zebra) and Equus quagga antiquorum (Damaraland zebra) are so close to each other that they suggest that the two are in fact one, and therefore the older of the two names should take precedence over the younger. They therefore say that the correct name for the southernmost subspecies must be burchellii, not antiquorum.[9] The subspecies Equus quagga burchellii still exists in KwaZulu-Natal and in Etosha. Equus quagga burchellii can be found in a number of zoos in the United States including the following: the Cincinnati Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Naples Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, etc., and a small herd of about 75-100 animals is still extant, and free ranging, on the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, California, USA.


  1. ^ a b c Gray, J. E. (1824). "A Revision of the Family Equidae". Zoological Journal. 1 (2): 241–248. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  2. ^ Powell, Emma (23 July 2014). "Zebra meat: Exotic and lean – but does it taste good?". Independent Digital News and Media Ltd. The Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  3. ^ "The Zebra {Equus Burchellii and Grevyi}". sa-venues.com. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  4. ^ Neuhaus, P; Ruckstuhl, K. E. (2002). "The link between sexual dimorphism, activity budgets, and group cohesion: the case of the plains zebra (Equus burchelli)". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80 (8): 1437–1441. doi:10.1139/z02-126. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Groves, Colin; Grubb, Peter (2011). Ungulate Taxonomy. JHU Press. pp. 13–17. ISBN 978-1-4214-0093-8. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  6. ^ "BURCHELL'S ZEBRA". sanbi.org. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Burchells Zebra". krugerpark.co.za. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "Burchell's zebras undertake 300-mile migration, longest in Africa". UPI.
  9. ^ a b Groves, C. P.; Bell, H. B. (2004). "New investigations on the taxonomy of the zebras genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris". Mammalian Biology. 69: 182–196. doi:10.1078/1616-5047-00133.


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