Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Social Life, Grevy's Style

by Jennifer Zoon

Unlike common plains zebras and mountain zebras, Grevy’s zebras lead a fleeting social life. Apart from the two or three years a mother spends with her foal, most relationships last only a matter of months.

Gumu and Dante’s territorial rifts are, in fact, instinctual and occur quite often in the wild. Once a stallion finds a watering hole with nearby pastures, he will announce his find with loud vocalizations and habitually drop large piles of dung, called middens. Upon seeing and smelling this dung, roaming males think twice before entering the stallion’s territory. Scientists at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust have observed stallions living in one territory for up to seven years. In time, a younger, more dominant male often challenges a stallion and usurps his land.

When it comes to foal-rearing, mothers assume all responsibility. Right after she gives birth, a mother will use her teeth, hooves, and body to prevent any animal from getting too close to her baby. That’s because until a newborn foal learns who its mother is by sight, voice, and smell, it will follow anything that moves. Its mother’s defensive behavior prevents the foal from accidently following another female, who would be less inclined to protect it from hungry predators.

Freelance writer and editor JENNIFER ZOON is an assistant on the Zoo’s communications team and a former Smithsonian Zoogoer intern.


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Smithsonian Zoogoer 39(1) 2010. Copyright 2010 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.