What’s that stripe?

Sabi Sand | June 2020

When I think of Africa, my mind is instantly inspired by the vast array of patterns, textures and colours that are flaunted in the bushveld. One animal in particular is significantly striking to me. With a horse-like physique but a complex design, the plains zebra (Equus quagga) is far from ordinary. Each black stripe curves and waves across the body, getting wider and thinner matching the arcs of their frame. Their long muscular muzzle is defined so delicately by thinner paralleled lines, much like the contour lines on a map. Even their striking erect mane continues the black and white stripe trend. Looks aren’t always as they seem though, as these seemingly painted creatures actually have a dark black skin underneath their white background coat.

In the rich grazing grassland plains, we often find a group or two of zebra together, described quite fittingly as a ‘dazzle’. These factions differ from bachelor herds of young males, to more complex groups called harems where typically one male (stallion) would lead a group of up to six females (mares). Stallions and mares are very similar in size, although males are slightly bigger, weighing on average around 300 kg. It is, however, in their stripped pattern where they are marginally (excuse the pun) different. At the base of their tail, a female zebra has a wider black stripe which extends towards her belly in comparison to the very thin stripe of the male.

A dazzle of zebras is rather stunning – especially pictured in the golden lilac light of dusk. Although it’s easy to forget, when seen as a group, that each animal is actually very different. A stripe is a stripe and a spot is a spot, but no two are ever the same. Just like each of us are unique in our appearance and DNA, each painted pattern of a zebra coat is a ‘one-off’ design. Take a look at your fingertips. No one else in this world has the same formation as yours. You don’t need to stand out or try to be different because you are already unique. The hard part is seeing that for yourself. Ironically, zebras stand out quite dramatically against the grassy backdrop they reside in. Yet sometimes it just takes a small moment to pause and look past the herd to view the individuals for who they are, especially if the individual you’re seeking to find is you.

I would like share with you a special quote by motivational speaker and author Gordon Ewell. The theme has been quite topical recently across the globe and these words have left me somewhat lost in quiet thought and emotion:

“One zebra said to the other, “I am white with black stripes,” to which another zebra said, “You are not. You are black with white stripes!”. A leopard, which overheard them argue about it long enough, said, “You are both wrong. You are so special, for no two have stripes just exactly alike. Just as I am neither yellow nor black but spotted, with no one having spots exactly the same as mine! Even those who cannot see colours will know that you are not donkeys but zebras. They will know I am not a panther or cougar but a leopard.” It is the pattern of our stripes and spots that make us special, not the colour of them!”