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Members of the Equidae family (sometimes referred to as the horse family) live all over the world. In the wild, these animals are found primarily in East Africa and the Near East to Mongolia. They make their homes in a variety of habitats, including everything from verdant grasslands to savannas to deserts. Species from this family are identified best by their long skulls, stocky bodies, manes on their neck, and the presence of hooves on all four feet.
Horses are one of the three naturally-occurring members of the Equidae family. Like the rest of the family, they are herbivores and grazers. While most are domesticated and live with humans, others remain wild. Groups of these feral horses can be found across the globe; they are the descendents of horses once owned by humans, but now run free. For example, North American mustangs are descended from the horses brought to the New World by Europeans more than 400 years ago.
Donkeys probably were domesticated long before horses. They are shorter and slower than, and unable to carry as much weight as horses, though they can pull heavy loads with greater ease. As for appearances, donkeys differ from horses not only in their height, but in their faces. Relative to their body size, donkeys have much larger heads and far longer ears than horses.
Unlike horses and donkeys, zebras are not working animals. Their wild populations are confined to Africa, living in a wide range in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. They tend to make their homes in treeless grasslands and savanna woodlands where they also must keep a keen eye and ear out for predators, like big cats and hyenas. Zebras are perhaps the most striking examples of Equidae, as they have naturally cropped black manes and are famous for their white coat with dark, lateral stripes.
Mules are considered members of the Equidae family, though they do not occur naturally in the wild; they are the product of arranged couplings between male donkeys and female horses. These animals appear as larger, darker, and more streamlined versions of donkeys. Mules are working animals, much like their parents, though many claim that, as hybrids, they offer the best of both worlds, and are described as patient, athletic, intelligent, easily trained, and hardy.
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web: Equidae
- National Geographic: Animals -- Horses
- Donkeys: Jennies, Jacks, and Foals: Lorijo Metz
- African Wildlife Foundation: Zebra
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images