Zebras are wild animals of the Equid family, which includes burros and domestic horses. Care and husbandry of the Zebra is similar to buffalo; you must respect that they may be tame as a foal, but with maturity their wild instincts will dominate. Overfeeding of grain is one of the main problems we see with domesticated wildlife, including Zebras. There are 3 main species of Zebras: the plains, the mountain and the Grevy’s. There are 9 other subspecies of the Plains (E. burchell) and the Mountain Zebras (E. zebra:, two of the plains subspecies are extinct (Burchell’s and Quagga). The Grevy’s Zebra (Equus greyvi) is not compatible with other species of zebras. The Grant’s Zebra is a subspecies of the plains zebra. Chapman, Damara, Crawshay, and Upper Zambezi are the other subspecies of the plains. The Cape and the Hartmann‘s are subspecies of the Mountain Zebra. The largest of the Zebras are the Grevy’s, which average 56” high and 880#. The smallest zebras are the Cape Mountain, which are 47” high. The Plains Zebras average 47-55″ at the shoulder and average 660#. The 8 subspecies of Zebras are from different areas of Africa. They can sometimes be distinguished by their stripes. There are other characteristics, such as differences in their bones, skull and teeth that categorize the subspecies. It is the Plains Zebra that is the most common Zebra and is seen photographed as large groups in central Africa. We recommend that you take pictures of each adult zebra in order to identify them later.
Zebras are similar to the horses and burros in reproduction. They mature at 2-3 years old in females and 3-5 in males. Most facilities are unable to separate the offspring from their parents, to keep the foals and fillies from breeding before 2-3 years of age. Nature does a good job by itself and the weaning and separation is not as important as it is in domestic horses or especially cattle to prevent dystocia problems. The gestation lasts from 11-13 months. A cross between a zebra and a horse is called a zorse. A z-donk, also called a zonkey, is a cross between a donkey (burro) and a zebra, while a zebra breeding with a pony is called a zonie. The offspring of these cross species breedings are sterile. A zebra can live 20-30 years in captivity. Breeding between the different species of zebras does not usually occur in the wild, as the harems and breeds do not socially mix. When breeding zebras you should recognize that the harem usually consists of the dominant male, a few mares and immature offspring. Other grown males and females of other groups are usually not welcome. We do not recommend intentionally mixing different families, or harems, into confined areas. The males and offspring should be separated by 1-2 years of age into other pastures to reduce stress and allow the social hierarchy to naturally occur. As with horses groups of males can run together, yet if a female is around they will fight for her.
The feeding of zebras is similar to horses; except we do not recommend grain to be over 1/4# total a day. The average herbivore eats 1.5-2.5% of their weight a day, or approximately 15-20# of hay for the average adult zebra. Obesity is a problem in any species. We recommend grass hay. Yearlings and pregnant or nursing mares can be feed alfalfa, or preferably an alfalfa/grass mix. Feed a complete pelleted mix, or small alfalfa pellets if you desire to supplement the hay. A brown mineral salt block is recommended. Iron containing supplements are not recommended at all, such as those sold for horses. It is strongly recommended you feed zebras, so they will know where their food comes from. It is recommended you feed any herbivore 2x a day. It does not hurt to let them run out of hay for a few hours, and in fact we encourage this so they will become more docile. This daily interaction and feeding will allow you to easily work with them in the future. Corner feeders are adequate, but consider if the zebras will get entangled in their feed troughs and/or the feeders are close enough to encourage fighting. Prevention of problems and upkeep of adequate facilities is very important when working with animals, especially wild and zoo type species. Daily look for sharp metal objects, areas to catch legs, fencing which can entrap a hoof, etc.
Adequate working facilities are a must. The perimeter fences can be 6’ (minimum), but the working area should have 8’ or higher and solid walls. There are many ways to work zebras. It is natural for any wild animal to not want to go into a “cave of darkness”. If you desensitize the animals to being fed periodically in the working area, this will reduce stress and related problems in the future. Working areas should have adequate lighting, yet able to dim or darken to calm down an excited animal if possible. Allowing them to periodically go through the walled alleyway is encouraged (but not if you have to chase them through it). Animals who periodically are gathered up and mildly restrained, such as closing the solid gates and closing the squeeze doors, will be much easier to work each year. This walled off working enclosure should be large enough to allow darting for tranquilizing, such as 1 acre if possible. When moving zebras you should expect to tranquilize them if the ride is far and/or if the animals are stressed. We try to avoid tranquilizing animals in general, but wild type animals have fewer problems when tranquilized for most procedures or travel. The owner should have a darting gun for use if need be. A portable tent for heat/cold is needed by the owner to have on hand for tranquilized animals. Zebras should not be tranquilized if the temperature is over 80 degrees, or under freezing, if possible. Early morning is the best time to work with these animals if darting is needed. A scale for periodic weighing the zebras is recommended. This scale should be in an alleyway where the zebras can routinely come and go, if possible.
The diseases are the same for horses as for Zebras. Equine encephalitis, tetanus and the foal diarrhea diseases are the most concern we have. We recommend the FEWT vaccine for adults, and the oral antiserums for newborn foals, if possible to prevent these problems. A double fencing around the premises is very important to keep neighbor’s horses from having nose and close contact within 30’, if possible. Strangles (Strep.), herpes (Rhino), influenza, PHF, EVA and other diseases can be spread from nearby horses or from improper quarantining of new zebras. We can vaccinate for many of the above diseases in zebras as if they were horses, but any vaccine for a zebra should probably be of the killed type, not MLV (modified live). Vesicular stomatitis and Pigeon Chest (Corynebacterium) and their prevention by fly control may be not practicable for some farms. There are many other possible, yet rarely seen, equine diseases than those mentioned above of which we have vaccines for. Each time you work or vaccinate an animal you have a potential problem or reaction that may occur. Each area and each farm will have different vaccine requirements. An annual fecal test and dewormings at least 2-3 times a year is recommended.
If we have a healthy zebra to be euthanized, we may want to collect some blood first. Processing and freezing plasma or serum can save a newborn’s life if colostrum is not available. Serum can be frozen for 3-5 years, and given orally to a newborn under 18 hours of age. We have horse serum which is also available commercially.
It is very important to have a necropsy (autopsy) done on all exotic animals that die for any reason except a young animal with a traumatic death. These surveillance necropsy results will be very valuable in determining unknown nutritional and disease problems within the herd. In our area the rendering trucks do not pick up zebras, and you must pay to have the carcass hauled off to a landfill. For only a few more dollars you can have a very complete autopsy performed at the state diagnostic lab within 12-24 hours of death. Any transfer or sale of livestock in Colorado requires a bill of sale, and a call to the brand inspector’s office. All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA; www.aphis.usda.gov/
The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic