A baby zebra is called a foal, though some individuals may refer to young zebras as cubs. Like horses, a baby zebra is called a filly if it is female and a colt if it is male. Adult females are mares and male zebras are called stallions.
Depending upon the species, zebras mate year round. The gestation period is generally between 12 and 13 months. Zebras typically only have one baby zebra a year, though twins are occasionally born.
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Adult zebras are characterized by their black and white striped pattern. This pattern varies with each zebra, and no two patterns are exactly alike. In contrast, a baby zebra is marked with brown and white stripes instead of black and white. The zebra’s unique striped pattern is thought to serve as a camouflage, making it easier to blend in with the tall grasses of its natural habitat.
Zebras live in groups referred to as harems, though the three species of zebras differ somewhat in the forming of these groups. The Grevy’s zebras only form temporary groups, dispersing after a few months. In contrast, the plains and mountains species form harems that are generally made up of one stallion and approximately six mares and their young zebras.
Within the harems, baby zebras are protected by all of the zebras within the group. The young zebras of the Grevy’s species, however, are often only protected by their mothers due to the temporary nature of this species' herding practices. Mountains and plains species communicate via a high pitched whinny, while Grevy's zebras have a loud braying sound.
A baby zebra learns to recognize its mother by sight, smell, and sound. It generally takes two to three days before a baby zebra is able to distinguish its mother from the other mares. During this process, the mare will generally stray away from the harem with her baby zebra and keep the other zebras away until she is sure her foal can recognize her.
Zebras have an amazing sense of smell, keen eyesight, and extremely powerful hind legs. When attacked or pursued by predators, zebras will kick their back legs while fleeing in an effort to ward off danger. In harems, the stallion will remain at the back of the herd to fight off pursuing predators. Harems will flee in herds, remaining close together to confuse predators with their striped patterns. Natural predators include spotted hyenas, lions, cheetahs, and leopards.