Plains zebra

Plains zebra
Equus quagga burchellii - Etosha, 2014.jpg
Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) at Etosha National Park, Namibia
Scientific classification e
Species:E. quagga
Binomial name
Equus quagga
Boddaert, 1785

E. q. quagga
E. q. burchellii
E. q. boehmi
E. q. borensis
E. q. chapmani
E. q. crawshayi
E. q. selousi

Plains Zebra area.png
Plains zebra range
  • Equus burchelli (Gray, 1824) [orth. error]
  • Equus burchellii Schinz, 1845

The plains zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchellii), also known as the common zebra or Burchell's zebra, or locally as the "quagga"[2] (not to be confused with the extinct subspecies), is the most common and geographically widespread species of zebra.[3] It ranges from the south of Ethiopia through East Africa to as far south as Botswana and eastern South Africa. The plains zebra remains common in game reserves, but is threatened by human activities such as hunting for its meat and hide, as well as competition with livestock and encroachment by farming on much of its habitat.

Subspecies include the extinct quagga and six recognised extant subspecies, though there is great variation in coat patterns between individuals. The striping pattern is unique among ungulates in the region, and its functions are disputed. Suggested functions include crypsis, forms of motion camouflage, social signaling and recognition, and discouraging biting flies. As of 2016, the plains zebra is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN.[1][4]

The plains zebra's range is fragmented, but spans much of southern and eastern Africa south of the Sahara. Its habitat is generally but not exclusively treeless grasslands and savanna woodlands, both tropical and temperate. They generally avoid desert, dense rainforest and permanent wetlands, and rarely stray more than 30 kilometres from a water source. Zebras of all ages are preyed upon by lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, crocodiles and African wild dogs.

The plains zebra is a highly social species, forming harems with a single stallion, several mares and their recent offspring; there are also bachelor groups. Groups may come together to form herds. The animals keep watch for predators rather than attempting to hide; they bark or snort when they see a predator, and the harem stallion attacks predators to defend his harem. The species population is stable and not endangered, though some populations such as in Tanzania have declined sharply.


There is a dispute among biologists as to how to properly classify the various species of zebra. It is thought that the plains zebra and mountain zebra belong to the subgenus Hippotigris and that Grévy's zebra is the sole species of subgenus Dolichohippus. This is on account of Grévy's zebra resembling an ass (subgenus Asinus), while the plains zebra and mountain zebra are more horse-like. All three animals belong to the genus Equus along with other living equids. However, recent phylogenetic evidence finds that plains zebras are more closely related to Grévy's zebras than mountain zebras.[5] In areas where plains zebras are sympatric with Grévy's zebras, it is not unusual to find them in the same herds[6] and fertile hybrids occur.[7] In captivity, plains zebras have been crossed with mountain zebras. The hybrid foals lacked a dewlap and resembled the plains zebra apart from their larger ears and their hindquarters pattern.


Burchell's zebra (E. q. burchellii) in Etosha National Park, Namibia

In 2004, C. P. Groves and C. H. Bell investigated the taxonomy of the zebra genus, Equus, subgenus Hippotigris. They published their research in the journal Mammalian Biology. They revised the subspecies of the plains zebra Equus quagga. Six subspecies are now recognisable.[1]

Sometimes another subspecies is distinguished in Eastern Zimbabwe and Western Mozambique:

The quagga was originally classified as a separate species, Equus quagga, in 1778. Over the next 50 years or so, many other zebras were described by naturalists and explorers. Because of the great variation in coat patterns (no two zebras are alike), taxonomists were left with a great number of described "species", and no easy way to tell which of these were true species, which were subspecies, and which were simply natural variants. The quagga was the first extinct creature to have its DNA studied. Recent genetic research at the Smithsonian Institution has demonstrated that the quagga was in fact not a separate species at all, but diverged from the plains zebra, between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago, and suggests that it should be named Equus burchellii quagga. However, according to the rules of biological nomenclature, where there are two or more alternative names for a single species, the name first used takes priority. As the quagga was described about 30 years earlier than the Burchell's zebra, it appears that the correct terms are E. quagga quagga for the quagga and E. quagga burchellii for the plains zebra, unless "Equus burchellii" is officially declared to be a nomen conservandum.

Burchell's zebra 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. 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 subspecies Equus quagga burchellii and Equus quagga antiquorum (the Damara zebra) are so close to each other that the two are in fact one, and that 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. The subspecies Equus quagga burchellii still exists in KwaZulu-Natal and in Etosha.

A 2018 DNA study found no evidence for a subspecies structure, but instead observed a north-south genetic continuum, with plains zebra in Uganda (the most northern population) the most distinct.[8]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Bontkwagga
aragonés: Equus quagga
azərbaycanca: Düzənlik zebri
български: Равнинна зебра
català: Zebra comuna
Cebuano: Equus quagga
čeština: Zebra stepní
Deutsch: Steppenzebra
español: Equus quagga
Esperanto: Stepa zebro
euskara: Zebra arrunt
français: Equus quagga
hrvatski: Stepska zebra
Bahasa Indonesia: Zebra dataran
interlingua: Equus quagga
italiano: Equus quagga
ქართული: ბარის ზებრა
Кыргызча: Квагга
latviešu: Līdzenumu zebra
lietuvių: Savaninis zebras
Luganda: Ntulege
македонски: Обична зебра
Bahasa Melayu: Kuda belang dataran
Nederlands: Steppezebra
پنجابی: عام زیبرا
português: Equus quagga
română: Equus quagga
српски / srpski: Обична зебра
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Stepska zebra
suomi: Aroseepra
svenska: Stäppzebra
Türkçe: Bayağı zebra
українська: Зебра бурчеллова
Winaray: Equus quagga
粵語: 平原斑馬
中文: 平原斑馬