Equus quagga (Plains zebra, Chapman's zebra, Burchell's zebra)

bontsebra, bontkwagga, Chapman-sebra [Afrikaans]; Steppenzebra [German]; zŤbra de Burchell [French]; idube, iduba elimibalabala, idube elibhondo [isiNdebele]; iqwarhashe [isiXhosa]; idube [isiZulu]; pitsi [Sepedi]; pite ya naga, pitsi ya naha [Sesotho]; pitse, pitse ya naga, pitse yanagÍng, pitse Ítilodi, pitse Ítilotsana, pÍrÍ yanaga sÍbora [Setswana]; lidvubu, lidvuba [siSwati]; mangwa, mbizi, duva [Xitsonga]; mbidi [Tshivenda]; pizi [Lozi]; umbiyi [Yei]; !Goreb, !Goareb [Nama, Damara]

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Equus quagga (Plains zebra, Chapman's zebra, Burchell's zebra)

Plains zebra, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Equus quagga (Plains zebra, Chapman's zebra, Burchell's zebra)

Plains zebras playing together, Ventersburg, Free State, South Africa. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

The extension of the stripes beneath the belly is perhaps the easiest way of distinguishing this zebra from the Mountain zebra. The Plains Zebra inhabits open savannah woodland, open scrub and grassland with available water and its natural distribution extends from East Africa down to the northern and eastern areas of southern Africa. It has also been introduced back into the Cape in a project to selectively breed a Plain's zebra that looks similar to the extinct Quagga.


The plains zebra is stocky and horse-like in appearance, like all zebra it is easily recognized with their sleek characteristically striped coat. The ground colour of the coat is white with black stripes, fainter yellowish-brown or grey “shadow” stripes are superimposed on the white stripe, particularly on the hindquarters. There is considerable variation in the colouration and the patterning and no two zebras are alike. Some animals show no shadow striping while in others it is very marked. The black stripes on the body and the hindquarters are broader than on the neck and head, and extend onto the underparts. A narrow black stripe runs along the mid line of the tail to the black whisk at the end, the black band continues onto the top of the tail where it is flanked by black bars. A long erect mane runs along the top of the neck from ears to above the shoulders, the neat striping pattern on the neck extends into the mane. The muzzle, chin and nose are black. Their mobile upper lips are sensitive and strong, and they use them to push the food between the incisors when they cut it free. There is no dewlap is under the throat, and the grid-iron pattern over the top of the tail is absent. Stallions are heavier than mares with a thicker neck, the dentition is also shows sexual dimorphism, in males the permanent canine is a large prominent, tooth that cuts through the gum. In mares this tooth is tiny or does not erupt.

Several theories have been proposed to try to explain the conspicuous black and white striping characteristic of the zebra coat. Earlier suggestions that the colouration functions as camouflage, confuses predators or deters flies have been discredited. Research suggests that the patterning may have a social function, as zebras appear to respond to its visual stimulation. It is thought that it stimulates mutual grooming in the preferred body areas, this will in turn facilitate bonding within groups.


Shoulder height 1.3 m; weight 290-340 kg.

Dental Formula

 I C P M =

Distribution and habitat

The natural distribution extends from East Africa down to the Northern and eastern regions of southern Africa altough there is also a Quagga Project breeding programme in the Western Cape that has resulted in this species being introduced to a number of different reserves in this region. Plains Zebra inhabits open savannah woodland, open scrub and grassland with available water.

General behaviour

Primary predators are lion and spotted hyaena. When attacked zebras rely on speed to try to outrun their attacker, or they use there powerful kicks to try to .deter them. The risk of injury to a predator from a kick is high. Plains zebra are often found in association with Blue wildebeest, their sight smell and hearing being of benefit to the entire group in warning of danger.

Plains zebra are non- territorial and gregarious, living in family groups that consist of a breeding stallion with one or more mares and their foals. Other stallions form bachelor herds or remain solitary. While family groups normally number 4-6 animals, the size varies and appears to be correlated to the conditions of the habitat and the predation pressure. The herds are made up of many family groups. Bachelor herds have a clear social hierarchy and may be joined by non-breeding fillies for brief periods. These zebra are diurnal. The stallion remains at the rear of the family group to defend the herd if necessary. Vocalizations include the characteristic bark-like “kwa-ha-ha” from which the name quagga was derived.


They are partial to short grass but will feed on almost all grass species when it is short and in the young growth stage, occasionally they will browse on herbs, leaves twigs, or pods and wild fruits. They are attracted to the initial growth flush in areas that have been recently burnt or scorched.


The gestation period is about 375 days. Foals are born throughout the year, but foaling peaks in summer during the period of new vegetation growth. A single foal is born and is able to keep up with the herd an hour after birth. It stays closely bonded with its mother for the first weeks of its life. Mares with new-born foals are aggressive towards other members in the herd and actively discourage contact between the foal and others, often driving away any other zebras that approach too close. The foal weans at 11 months but remains with its mother until after the next sibling is born and leaves the family herd after 1 –4.5 years.

Equus quagga (Plains zebra, Chapman's zebra, Burchell's zebra) Equus quagga (Plains zebra)

Plains zebra foal, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Plains zebra foal. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Life span

29 years (captivity)


Like all zebra the plains zebra can mate freely with other equids, e.g. donkey and horse. At one time hybrids between donkey and zebras (zedonks) were purposefully bred to be used as pack and draft animals. But this is of concern to conservation as it is a genetic threat and all possible actions should be taken to prevent it. As this species is not currently endangered, the conservation status is regarded as low risk as population numbers are still relatively high.


Text by Denise Hamerton

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