Ever wonder why zebras can not be tamed, saddled and domesticated like horses and donkey? Even though they bear many similarities with its cousins (horses and donkeys); wild nature, herbivores, same body build, but yet this black and white stripe animal has refused to be tamed for domesticity.
The question of how the animal avoided the burden of bearing loads, farm working, fence jumping fate of its cousins has probably lingered in your mind since childhood. This is not to say attempts have not been made to ride or race zebras just like horses. But the question is? If horses were so important and were tamed by human civilisation, why not the zebra? Here’s the reason.
Zebras are species whose origin is in Africa, with different patterns of stripes unique to each individuals. They are herbivorous – primarily eat a variety of grasses, shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves and bark. And they are known to be social animals that live in small harems to large herds.
Wilder Nature than Horses
The zebra population of Africa was relatively secure and particularly well adapted to its environment. All equids (Horses, ponies, donkeys) are herbivorous prey species with a well developed “flight or fight” response.
Living in a continent like the African Savannas, filled with wild predators like lions, hyenas, cheetahs, has evolved the zebra into an alert and responsive animal that flees in the face of danger, and also possesses a powerful response if captured. It is said that a kick from a zebra can break a lion’s jaw – much more humans. Not only are they ass-kicking animals, they are also known to be savage biters.
Strong Survival Instinct
Mr./Mrs. Stripes possess a ducking reflex which helps them avoid being captured by lassos – loop hole ropes used to caught horses and cattle. Familiarity with human hunter gatherers may also have fostered a strong avoidance response in the zebra. That is to say, they are not human friendly since early humans could not tamed them as domestic aids. Plus, they are always a targets for lions, hence early humans could not risk keeping them around.
English explorer and polymath, Francis Galton (a relative of Charles Darwin) has described the zebra as an ‘unmanageable species’. According to him, the Dutch Boers repeatedly tried to break zebra to harness. Severally, they succeeded, but the wild, impulsive nature of the animals would frequently break out and thwart their efforts.
Galton explained that for an animal to be domesticated it has to posses the following characteristics:
- display a desire for comfort,
- being easy to tend,
- being useful and showing a fondness for man.
Horses work harder, live in more urbanised environments and do the bidding of their owners, lead safer, more comfortable lives, and accepted human domestication to save their species which now thrives to a population of 6 million, worldwide.
Although it appears possible to tame individual zebra, this species was not a good candidate for domestication. Sadly, contrary to horses, zebra numbers are probably now fewer than 800,000, with humans posing the greatest threat to their survival. Maybe in the nearest future, this animal might succumb to human allures, after all, anything is possible these days.