A zebra is born with camouflage stripes, immediate mobility and a mother's lessons of survival skills. Despite these benefits, predation and extinction loom. More than ever, the birth of a baby zebra is something to marvel at and celebrate, given the fact that two of the three species of zebra are presently listed as endangered species.
One Year, One Foal
Mating occurs throughout the year, but the height of mating season for the Grevy’s zebra lasts from August through October, with the female giving birth during Africa’s rainy season. Once mated, there is a gestation period of 12 to 13 months, and then the female gives birth to one newborn, or foal. Zebras are born with their stripes, which appear brown and white at birth. A foal is well developed at birth and weighs an average of 70 pounds.
He Is Off and Running
The mother is the primary caregiver to her young. During the foal’s first two days of life, the mother keeps him close and limits direct contact with the other zebras so that he learns to identify her by sight, smell and sound. However, those single-toe hooves were made for walking, and within 15 minutes from birth, the foal is able to stand up on his own. Within an hour, he is walking and able to accompany his mother as she rejoins the herd. Because young zebras are particularly vulnerable to predators, the ability to run so shortly after birth is crucial to his survival.
Nutrition and Nurture
As mammals, zebras suckle from their mothers. Most zebras are fully weaned between 7 and 11 months of age, but the mother continues to lactate for up to 16 months after giving birth. Zebras are herbivores, dining on grasses, shrubs, leaves, herbs and other plant material. Foals begin grazing when they are 1 week old. As the foal follows his mother closely throughout his first year, he observes which flora to consume. The foal also learns the herd’s migratory route to navigate between the cyclical dry and rainy seasons, as well as the invaluable lesson of keeping a watch for predators.
All Grown Up
By one year of age, foals are able to be independent. Some males will join a group of other young males by this time, but it is not uncommon for a young zebra to remain with his original family herd for up to four years. Zebras reach sexual maturity at 16 to 22 months of age. Zebras in the wild live an average of nine years. Sadly, there is a 50 percent average mortality rate for foals, due in large to such predators as lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs. In captivity, the life span for a zebra extends to 20 to 40 years.