Ancient Zebra Pathways
Blending so well into their surroundings - despite their very distinctive stripes - it is often our horses that alert us to the presence of zebra. Standing in an alert posture, heads raised, big round ears rotating, sampling their surroundings, they embody the watchfulness. Then there is the sudden snort of alarm, and off the go crossing and recrossing our path, keeping these strange centaur-like shapes in view.
The small herds of Mountain or Hartman's zebra often join in our canters across the desert pains seemingly delighting in speed for the sheer fun of it. While it would appear that those distinguishing stripes could not possibly serve as camouflage, they almost disappear in the dancing heatwaves and mirages that ripple across the desert during the day. Very effective after all... Image above of a herd of zebra keeping the centaurs in view as they move on ahead
Sometimes we might be lucky enough to hear that distinctive ‘e-hah’ gasp of alarm while lying awake at night, looking up at the magnificent Milky Way. Standing very still as if deciding if it’s safe to continue along their ancestral path or risk a detour, they finally clatter off leaving us wondering if we too are sharing the path they are using tonight. Zebra often travel in the cool of the night - their night vision is thought to be as good as an owl’s
The well-worn paths they use are ancient - trodden deep into the calcrete desert pavement by generations of animals to reach remote waterholes they might have dug themselves in the beds of ephemeral rivers. We also use these convenient paths on our riding safaris to traverse the stony desert surfaces as they invariably lead in the very direction we’re travelling. Convenient!
The tracks join and separate weaving their way up and down the impossibly steep sides of the Kuiseb Canyon (image left - our horses dwarfed by the enormity of the canyon). Were it not for these ancient pathways, finding our way through these ‘badlands’ as they are called, would have been an impossible task.
Recognising Zebra species
The distinctive striped pattern, the large round ears and the dewlap under the throat distinguishes Hartman’s from the plains or Burchell’s zebra.
Also the absence of a shadow stripe as found on Burchell’s Zebra and having fully stripped legs, narrow torso strips and a gridiron pattern of parallel stripes on the rump.
Image right taken by a camera trap in the Namib where we water our horses and image below taken in Etosha National Park of Burchell’s zebra
A white belly might seem to indicate this is a white animal with black stripes, but then some say the black nose indicates the opposite. Who knows…. we’re grateful for the ancient pathways the zebra maintain for us to share.
Hunted to near extinction the 1950’s Equuas zebra harmannae has now recovered in numbers to merely ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN’s Red Data List. Inhabiting the arid regions of Namibia, southern Angola and the far northern Cape, this species of zebra is superbly adapted to its desert home. Their small hooves enable them to clim incredibly steep mountain and canyon sides as they follow the rains from the escarpment down into the desert to find the new grass.
We almost always encounter mountain zebra on all our riding safaris, particularly on our Namib Desert Safari where conditions are ideal on the huge plains of the central Namib
Image below (taken in Damaraland) has a very distinctive straight line of an ancient animal track in the foreground.