What is a Zebra’s Top Speed? | Fastest Species, Main Predators & Facts

February 4, 2022

Zebras can reach top speeds when evading predators in the open grasslands of eastern and southern Africa. These spectacular animals are easily recognizable thanks to their contrasting stripes. African at heart, all of the different species of zebra migrate within a diverse range of terrain and environments.

There are three main species of zebra. The Grevy’s zebra is a near-threatened species in eastern Africa. The plains zebra has 6 subspecies and is the most common zebra species. The mountain zebra is found in southern Africa.

We cover which zebra species are the fastest, how a running zebra evades predators, and an interesting fact about the sounds zebras make.

How fast does a Zebra Run

On a safari, you might ask how fast can zebras run? If it is being chased by a predator, it will be able to reach its top speed for short bursts. With great stamina for a continued effort. Zebras are a migratory species and rely on movement for both food and survival.

They have four legs and move the left hind leg before the left foreleg, then the right hind leg before the right foreleg. This movement is the same as that of a horse. Unlike horses, all zebra species have developed a survival instinct of zig-zagging while evading predators.

Herd of zebra stand infront of wildebeest

Newborn Zebra Running Speed

Running speed is important to the survival of a zebra. The wild environment zebras find themselves in has helped them to evolve over time. A newborn zebra can get to its feet and walk within its first hour of life on earth. The young zebra learns how to run in its first 24 hours. These qualities are necessary for an animal that migrates large distances in search of food.

How fast can a Zebra Run in mph?

A zebra can run at a top speed of 40mph and maintains a speed of 30mph over a 12 mile distance. The speed of a zebra is but one of the factors it relies on for survival. Known predators of zebras include lions, leopards, cheetahs, and Hyenas. Being slower than all but one of its predators, the zebra has had to learn how to zig-zag for safety.

zebra running at top speed

Can a Zebra run faster than a horse?

The fastest horse has been recorded reaching a top speed of 54mph. The speed of a zebra vs a horse’s speed is slower in top speed and acceleration. A zebra is more than just a horse with stripes. When comparing zebras with horses, the closest living relative, it is believed the stripes were an evolutionary adaptation to help prevent predatory insects like biting flies.

Wild horse running at top speed

Types of Zebra

The three main species of zebra all live in Africa. With stripes acting as unique fingerprints, each subspecies has its own defining characteristics. The following list covers the characteristics and location of each species.

Burchell’s zebra

Burchell’s zebras are commonly known as a Plains zebra. They are distinguishable from Mountain zebra by the fading stripes on its legs and distinct stripes on its belly. Plains zebras are found in East and Southern Africa and are the fastest species of zebra.

Plains Zebra drinking water in wateringhole

Chapman’s zebra

Chapman’s zebras fall within the plains species. They are distinguished by their variable colours with shadow stripes appearing between black stripes. The back half of a Chapman’s zebra often has horizontal stripes. They are found in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and northern parts of South Africa.

Crawshay’s Zebra

A plains zebra found in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and eastern Zambia. The Crawshay’s zebra has very narrow stripes which extend to the bottom of the belly.

Grant’s zebra

The smallest of the plains zebras, the Grant Zebra, is one of the most common plains zebras. It is found across a wide area in the Eastern parts of Africa.

Grevy’s zebra

The Grevy’s Zebra, compared to other species, is taller and has larger ears. The stripes are similar to a mountain zebra as they do not extend onto the belly. Found mainly in northern Kenya, they are considered near threatened as there are an estimated 2500 Grevy’s zebras.

Grevy zebra showing stripes

Mountain zebra

Mountain zebras are found in the high lying areas of the Western and Eastern Cape in South Africa and the more arid regions of Namibia. The belly of a Mountain zebra is all white. The species is made up of the Cape Mountain zebra and the Hartmann’s zebra.

Cape Mountain zebra

The Cape Mountain Zebra is endemic to South Africa and can be found in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, Kammanassie Nature Reserve, and Mountain Zebra National Park. It is still an endangered species despite an incredible growth from 13 individuals to around 2700. The Cape Mountain Zebra has narrower and more numerous stripes than the Mountain Zebra.

Cape Mountain Zebra in Cape Point Nature

Hartmann’s zebra

The Hartmann’s zebra is a subspecies of the mountain zebra and is very similar genetically to that of the Cape Mountain zebra. They are known to have the fastest growing hooves to cope with mountainous terrains. The white stripes of a Hartmann’s zebra tend to be slightly wider than that of the Cape Mountain zebra.

Main Predators of Zebra in the Wild

Cheetahs, leopards, lions and hyenas are known to hunt zebras. When in open areas zebras find protection from these predators by forming herds alongside giraffe and wildebeest. Zebras are slower than wildebeest and only slightly faster than giraffes.

When traveling in a herd zebras are afforded some security from predators. The striped bodies help camouflage the group preventing predators from targeting a single animal. If caught by a predator the zebra’s strong hind legs can deliver a damaging kick.

cheetah at top speed

A Zebras fastest predator

A cheetah can reach a top speed of 120 km/h and uses speed to effectively hunt its prey.  Zebras use a two-syllable call to alert herd members of a predator. Cheetah’s will usually target the youngest and weakest members who break away from the herd.

How fast can a lion run?

A zebra knows how fast an animal like a lion can run and evades the top predator with biological advantages and running techniques. When moving in a herd the zebras motion and the stripes help to prevent predators from singling out the young or weak members.

Lion about to test a zebras top speed

Final Thoughts on Zebra Top Speeds

Zebra’s can run at a top speed of 40mph and have incredible stamina to survive in the wild. All of the zebra species share an ancestor with horses but have evolved with unique differences. The black and white stripes which help zebras to confuse predators are also a great way to identify which subspecies a zebra belongs to.

Love zebra’s and are interested in seeing one in person? Find out when is the best time for a safari in Africa.

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