What Do Zebras Eat? A Guide to Zebra Diet

Zebras are the most beloved animals of Africa because of their unusual appearance and aggressive nature. This wild animal is also admired for bravery because it hardly takes a step back from attacking the king of the jungle.

Since Zebras are rarely seen by humans, can not be domesticated, and live their life strolling around in the wild, this wild animal is no less than a mystery for us.

The majority of us often get hooked to the National Geographic channel on weekends because we love to observe and hear more about these animals. A lot of wild animals have failed to keep their mystery but Zebras are still maintaining it quite well.

I have always been a fan of this wild creature because of its supernatural qualities and wild nature. My keen interest in wild animals, get me to spend my free time researching what they eat? How do they behave in the wild? And what animals they attack the most?

I spent the last weekend trying to understand what zebras eat. I was surprised to know that this is one of the most widely asked questions about Zebras.  The websites were full of answers but I find most of the answers unsatisfactory. Since my thorough research has answered all my questions, I decided to dedicate a day to write one detailed answer to this question.

Without wasting any more minutes, let’s move ahead and discuss today’s topic.

What do Zebras eat?

Zebras and horses are pretty much the same when it comes to eating. Zebras, like horses, find grass more than enough to live a balanced life. I’m sure there would definitely be a lot more than they like to stuff their tummy with, but the most accurate answer to this question can only be “Grass.”

Zebras are herbivores, this statement pretty much answers the question

We all know Zebras are the wild cousins of horses and donkeys. Like these two well known domestic animals, zebras need grass, leaves, roots, and legumes to live a balanced life.

But the debate does not settle here!

The debate is still not settled as the Zebras don’t migrate when the grass or the plants survive on dries up. In this dry season, the Zebras graze on desiccated plants that are left untouched because the other grazing animals find it useless.

Zebras have a strong digestive and immune system

Like most wild animals their digestive and immune systems are much stronger than the animals we keep at our farms. So, even if they have to eat low nutritional food for a few months, they would survive easily.

Zebras do not eat meat

Zebras are often seen attacking and killing deers or antelope and sometimes even adult zebras but the irony is that they leave the injured or dead animal there untouched. These animals are later eaten by the carnivorous. Zebras just do not eat meat.

90% percent of their total diet is made up of grass

The grass is the main source of energy for this exceptionally smart wild animal. 90% of their diet is just grass the 10% can be herbs, roots, aquatic vegetation, leaves, or legumes.

do zebras eat grass

What kind of grasses do Zebras eat?

There are different types of grasses and not all Zebras share the same taste. Generally, this wild animal likes to fill its tummy up with Bermuda, Short, and Red grass. All the species that are found in the world happens to be herbivores but they have their own preferences;

Mountain Zebra

All subspecies of Mountain Zebra have the same eating habits. Tufted grass is the staple food of Mountain Zebras but they have also seen grazing on themeda triandra, heteropogon contortus, enneapogon scoparius, cymbopogon plurinodis, and setaria neglecta grass. 

Grevy’s Zebra

Grevy Zebras have a little weird taste that no other species of Zebra can digest. This category prefers filling their tummy up with textured coarse grasses like; pennisetum schimperi and eleusine jaegeri.

The Grevy Zebras can digest the tougher coarse grasses but their stomach can not process high protein content such as alfalfa grass. When the Grevy’s Zebra can not find any favourable grass, they begin fulfilling the need from bark and foliage.

Common Zebra

Common or plain Zebras are not as choosy as to the above-mentioned kinds. They are majorly surviving in the wild on Red oat grass but if they can not find it anywhere near the start looking for greenish-blue tufted grasses like Cenchrus ciliaris, Eragrostis Superba, and Cynodon dactylon, etc.

All species of Zebras, if they can find the specific grasses they eat, prefers them over any other option. When the grass is scarce then they do not mind eating legumes, herbs, twigs, leaves, aquatic vegetation, cultivated crops, fallen fruits, beans, roots, shrubs, and barks of trees.

Zebras can not process high protein grass

This wild creature is used to eating low nutrition food. The high protein or sugar content in the grass is neither preferred nor beneficial. All the grasses, roots, shrubs, or aquatic vegetation they eat are low in protein and sugar. Their digestive system is only adapted to digest low-nutritional textured grasses (that other grazing animals can’t.)

So, it’s now clear that the Zebras are quite opposite to the other grazing animals when it comes to food as unlike them they do not need high nutritional foods to survive.

zebras diet

The low-nutritional grasses are enough to meet the needs of this wild creature. In the wet season when the grasses are scarce, they choose aquatic vegetation, roots, barks, shrubs, legumes, herbs, twigs, and other such low-protein options to fulfill their needs.

According to Livescience Zebras are purely wild animals which means that they can not be domesticated, if they could be, humans would have found ways to spoil them with treats as well. So, because of the wild lifestyle, they do not have a variety of options like their fellow grazers.

The wild animals are no doubt never seen kept at the farms or houses as a pet but we do find them in the zoos. The wild animals in the zoos have a different lifestyle than their fellas they left behind.

The zebras that live in the zoo may or may not be eating the same grasses but they are surely not consuming high protein foods either. Want to know how these zebras manage to survive without wild grass? Let’s find out.

What do Zebras eat in the zoo?

Zebras in captivity have a different lifestyle than the Zebras in the wild. The Zebras in the zoo are eating high nutritional grass but once a day(to mitigate the dangers of eating more than the requirement.) 

The grass that Zebras eat in the zoo is known as “Timothy hay.” Horses and donkeys in the zoo also eat similar grass but probably more than once a day. Zebras in the zoos are kept under special care. They are eating grass, pellets, and licking salt to fulfil their needs.

Timothy hay

Timothy hay is highly nutritional but low in protein bunchgrass that is usually fed to protein-sensitive animals. It contains a good amount of fibre and calcium that seems fine if the Zebras eat once a day. Fibre doesn’t really cause any trouble as the zebras in the wild are spending 60 to 80% of their day grazing on high fibre grasses.

Pellets

Pellets are another source of energy for these animals in captivity. Pellets are large palatable cubes that are specifically made to supply the vitamins and minerals to grazing animals like horses, donkeys, and zebras, etc.

These pellets are made by combining wheat middlings, ground oats, ground oat hulls, linseed meal, dried beet pulp, dehydrated alfalfa meal, salt, and dehulled soybean meal, etc. The pellets are the main source of vitamin K, magnesium, and calcium.

Salt

Zebras, elephants, and deers in the zoo are also licking salts to restore the salt lost by sweating. Zebras are also made to lick salt because it does not just help in developing shinier and healthier coats but is a main excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium.

Treats

Like pets and farm animals, zebras in captivity are often rewarded with several mouth-watering treats. Carrots, apples, and sugar cubes are their favourite treats. Apples and sugar cubes are fed once in the blue moon as they are safer to horses than zebras.

Moreover, the zebras in the zoos have easy access to water whereas their fellas in the wild sometimes have to search for a day or two to get water. Zebras can easily go five days without water so not finding water for a day or so is not really a problem but zebras in captivity do not have to spend a single day without water. (Source)

The zebras that are consuming the low nutritional wild grasses are healthier and smarter than the zebras that live in the zoo even though their needs are being catered in the best possible way. 

We have discussed what zebras eat to maintain a healthier weight, good health, and shiny coat. It’s now clear to you that the zebras in the wild and the zebras in the zoo are living different lives. The zebras that are forced to spend their entire lives in captivity are given Timothy hay, pellets as a meal, and carrots, apples, and sugar cubes as a treat.

The most Googled question “what do zebras eat?” Is answered now let’s see what else people search for;

zebras feed guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Do zebras eat meat?

Zebras do not eat meat at all. Even if they are successful in killing a deer, antelope, or zebra they leave it there for the carnivorous to eat. Zebras are herbivores so they spend their entire life grazing on low nutritional grasses.

How much grass do zebras eat in a day?

It is hard to tell how much exactly grass zebras consume in a day. They spend 60 to 80 percent of their day eating low nutritional grasses, so it wouldn’t be wrong to say that they eat more than horses and donkeys.

What kind of grasses do zebras eat in the wild?

Zebras eat a variety of low-protein grasses in the wild. The common and most consumed ones are; red oats, themeda triandra, heteropogon contortus, enneapogon scoparius, cymbopogon plurinodis, setaria neglecta grass, pennisetum schimperi, eleusine jaegeri,cenchrus ciliaris, Eragrustis superba, and cynodon dactylon, etc.

Do zebras in the zoo get the same grass to eat?

No, zebras that live in the zoo have a different but well-suited lifestyle than the zebras in the wild. The zebras in the zoo usually get to eat Timothy hay and pellets. They lick salts quite often and get carrots as a reward once or twice a week.

Is alfalfa grass good for zebras? Do they eat alfalfa grass?

Alfalfa is of no use for zebras as it’s high in protein. Neither the zebras in the zoo nor in the wild eat alfalfa grass. They rather find red oats grass themeda triandra, heteropogon contortus, enneapogon scoparius, Cymbopogon plurinodis, Setaria neglecta grass, Pennisetum schimperi, eleusine jaegeri, Cenchrus ciliaris, Eragrostis Superba, and Cynodon dactylon, etc more of their type.

Where do most of the zebra’s population live?

Most of the zebras are living in Africa’s grasslands, savanna woodlands, deserts, wetlands, and rainforests, etc.

Are zebras aggressive?

Yes, they are far more dangerous than just being aggressive. Their kick is deadly enough to break a lion’s jaw. They are also known for biting and killing lions. So, if this is not aggressive behaviour I have no idea what else would be? 

Conclusion

In brief, zebras are herbivores. They spend 60 to 80 per cent of the day grazing on low nutritional textured grasses like red oats. The zebras that live in captivity get only Timothy hay, pellets, and carrots(once in a while) to eat. Timothy hay is highly nutritional grass but to mitigate the danger of overfeeding the zebras in the zoo get to eat once a day. Zebras can only eat low nutritional grasses, highly protein grasses are just not healthy for them.

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