HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ASSES – Equidae

HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ASSES

HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ASSES FACTS

Equids (EH-qwidz; horses, zebras, and asses) are built for speed, with long legs that allow them to move efficiently. Their single stomachs allow them to eat foods high in fiber because digestion occurs rapidly, and their single-toed hooves make navigating over rocks and hard surfaces easy.

There are three species of zebra, and each has a different stripe pattern. All equids have short coats, though those living in higher altitudes may grow thicker coats. There is very little size difference between the sexes.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Equids live in Africa below the Sahara Desert, in the Middle East, Arabia, Central Asia, and Mongolia.

HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ASSES HABITAT

Equids graze throughout the day, and various species live in deserts to grassland and shrubland (similar to grassland, only with small trees and shrubs as well).

HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ASSES DIET

Equids eat grasses high in fiber, which makes them more difficult to chew and digest. Their teeth are made for breaking down the reedy plants, however, and their single stomach allows for quick digestion.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Equids are social mammals and form groups in which individual needs for feeding, reproduction, and survival are met. Females form especially strong bonds and maintain stable communities even without the presence of a territorial male. Usually, one male heads a group and mates with several of the females. He spends a good deal of his time defending the group against “bachelor” or roaming males who might try to mate with the females. Offspring also live with the group, usually until the age of two or three years.

Groups are in the best interests of equids as they provide greater defense against predators, animals that hunt them for food, like the lion. When in herds, it is more difficult for lions to determine which zebra or horse is young, weak, or lame. When threatened, equids will run away rather than fight, but if forced to fight, they’ll kick with their hind feet and bite.

Equids communicate through vocalizations but also by changing the position of their tails, ears, and mouths.

The mating system varies, depending on environmental conditions. Pregnancy lasts from eleven to twelve months and usually results in the birth of one foal. And although equids are capable of producing one foal each year, it is more likely that a foal will be born every other year if nutritional food is readily available. Wild equids are ready to breed at the age of one or two years but don’t normally produce a foal until the age of three to five. There is not enough data to determine how long wild equids live. Experts estimate that 90 percent of female plains zebras die by the age of sixteen years. Their main predators are the lion and hyena.

EQUIDS AND PEOPLE

Domestic horses have played a significant role in the social and agricultural progress of humankind. Ironically, however, it has been humankind that has decimated the wild equid populations through hunting, habitat destruction, and the demand for livestock farming.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Of the seven species, one is Extinct, died out, in the Wild; one is Extinct altogether; one is Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; two are Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and one is Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. Wild equids are threatened primarily by hunters, but also by livestock grazing in their habitat, and inter-breeding with domestic horses and donkeys.