Zebras are members of the horse family (Equidae) found only in Africa. This animal is best known for its stunning black and white patternation and similar appearance to a domestic horse. There are actually three species of zebra; the plains zebra, Grévy’s zebra and the mountain zebra. All three species have faced threats, but currently only the mountain zebra and the Grévy’s zebra are listed as threatened species. The Grévy’s zebra is the most at risk of extinction with only about 3,000 members of the species in the wild today. Let’s find out why these species are endangered and what is being done to protect these beautiful animals.
Why are zebras endangered?
Traditionally, the main threat to the zebra was due to overhunting. Zebras were commonly hunted for their unique skins (hide), but they were also sometime hunted as a source of food. Today, they are protected from hunting throughout much of their range, although illegal hunting still takes place. The largest current threat to the zebra is habitat destruction. Much of their natural habitat is being converted to farmland and this also means that they must compete with livestock for food and water. Farmers often erect fences around watering holes which prevents the zebras from accessing water.
Most conservation efforts focus on reducing illegal poaching and creating reserves (such as national parks) for these animals to live in safety. There are also captive breeding programs in zoos around the world and these are important for increasing the numbers of zebras as well as increasing genetic diversity. Zebra sperm and eggs are being frozen and stored to ensure the survival of this animal.
Did you know?
The Cape mountain zebra, a subspecies of the mountain zebra was almost hunted to extinction in the 1930′s. At this time there were about 100 members of this subspecies remaining in the wild, but the numbers have recovered since then and there are now about 3,000 in the wild.