Original Paper

Acta Theriologica

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 111-120

First online:

Social structure, vigilance and behaviour of plains zebra (Equus burchellii): a 5-year case study of individuals living on a managed wildlife reserve

  • Heather I. SimpsonAffiliated withNatural Animal Veterinary Centre
  • , Sean A. RandsAffiliated withSchool of Veterinary Science, University of Bristol
  • , Christine J. NicolAffiliated withSchool of Veterinary Science, University of Bristol Email author 

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Most studies of plains zebra (Equus burchellii) have focused on population ecology and have not included long-term observations of identified individuals. Over a 5-year period, we studied the crepuscular activities of 13 individual zebras within a focal group held within a managed game reserve. We also examined individual residency within the group by recording births, mortalities and longevity of group membership by adults. Residency of individuals living in other groups on the reserve was similarly monitored to examine variability in social structure within this closed population over an extended period of time. Stable, female groups were the mainstay of group sociality with male mean residency at 31.6 months being variable in length or even absent. Social interactions across all categories of zebras were free from aggression. Despite an absence of non-human predators, the proportion of dusk time budget allocated to vigilance was high, at 41% for males during periods when they accompanied stable female groups and 12% for females during these same periods. Female vigilance increased significantly to 19% when males were not resident. Females spent 70% of the time grazing and males just 36%. Due to its long-term nature, we concluded this study established a base line for plains zebra activity that could assist in understanding the factors that influence the successful management and conservation of healthy populations.


Behaviour Hunting Social structure Vigilance Zebras