It can come as a shock to many people to see the violent side of some of their favourite animals revealed, especially creatures who aren’t normally associated with such behaviour.
From lions and other predators, one expects a certain amount of aggression, as their carnivorous nature by definition requires it, but from those species which one normally views as relatively peaceful it can be quite a surprise.
Zebra are one such species that elicit a viewing response of wonderment more often than not, as discussed in a previous post about them being comparable to some type of fairytale animal. High up on many people’s list of creatures they most desire to see, zebras aren’t often thought of as being aggressive by nature, but fights for dominance between stallions can be savage, with tails being bitten off, bones broken and some fights even going to the death. A male zebra walking around with only a stump for a tail may well be presumed to have lost it to a large predator, but the most likely culprit is in fact another zebra. They have fiercely sharp teeth, and a well-placed nip from a strong jaw can easily result in the loss of a tail, or at least a portion of it.
Zebras have even been known to kill lions with a kick, which can be delivered by two hooves at the same time whilst on the gallop, so a serious lashing out while engaged in a fight for females could certainly prove fatal if it strikes in the right place.
On a number of occasions over the last few years we have discovered the carcass of a male zebra with no signs of predators in the area, and unless they have fallen victim to snakebite, by far the most likely cause of death is a lethal kick by a rival male.
Whilst our sighting recently did not involve a fight to the death, nor indeed two dominant stallions, it was certainly wild enough to get the heart racing. Two young males from a bachelor herd were engaged in a serious bout of sparring. No females were at stake and my guess is that the two were testing each other as a prelude to striking out and attempting to win females of their own, but despite the non-serious nature of the fight, it was certainly enough to get our pulses racing and our shutter buttons clicking:
Whether lion or dung beetle, each species out there is engaged in a constant battle for survival and to reproduce. No matter how seemingly insignificant an organism’s place may appear on the tree of life, the drama for the individual is every bit as intense, whatever its size.
For supposedly peaceful herbivores like zebras exactly the same holds true. Their lifestyles may appear benevolent, but things can get heated very quickly.