Zebras can be a lot more aggressive than many people realise, particularly the stallions.
We have found the carcasses of adult males simply lying in the bush, without any signs of a predator(s), and the culprit in most cases will be a rival stallion. Females can be extremely dangerous when defending their young from lion attacks, and the force of their kicks is enough to crack a lion’s skull or break its jaw.
Young stallions are ousted from their harems by the dominant male, at which time they start congregating into bachelor herds. Much like young lion cubs will practice stalking and pouncing on one another, young zebra males will also practice skills they will need in adult life.
We recently enjoyed a sighting of a large aggregation of young zebras. Most likely a couple of bachelor herds had come together, and amongst what must have been about 40 individuals, it seemed like the vast majority of them were sparring; biting, kicking, chasing, and without being overly aggressive, were gearing up for the day when they too will have to defend females from rivals and fight off young individuals.
Have a look at what frisky zebra stallions get up to:
Although it’s a kick with the rear hooves that is the really powerful one in a zebra’s arsenal, the front ones still pack a punch. Most of the stallions in this sighting were just sparring gently though, so there was no real danger of any of them getting badly injured.
A brief pause in the excitement to gather their breath…
Teeth also play a role in a zebra’s weaponry. We regularly see males walking around with stumpy tails; the culprit is usually not a lion but another stallion.
This almost looks like a leopard’s straight-to-the-throat clasp. Like two boxers in a clinch, neither zebra here was able to gain the upper hand.
The herd was in constant motion with different sparring partners swapping in and out as they saw fit.
One doesn’t realise how remarkably supple zebra necks are, but in the early stages of sparring, a lot of the interaction involves biting and nuzzling around the neck and head area, and flexibility plays an important role in gaining an advantage over your adversary.
Risking a kick to the head, stallions will often try and bite each other on the hocks, spinning round and round to gain an advantage.
…and sometimes the best defence is simply lying down. In this way – although you aren’t really able to fight back – your can tuck your legs under you and your tail in, and hopefully weather the storm…
As intense and wildly exciting as it can be to watch a full-on battle in the wild, it’s sometimes nicer to know that the stakes aren’t that high, and it won’t go the distance.