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

HI Simpson, SA Rands, CJ Nicol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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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 five 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 zebra 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.

Translated title of the contributionSocial structure, vigilance and behaviour of plains zebra (Equus burchellii): a five year study of individuals living on a managed wildlife reserve with no resident large predators
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111 - 120
Number of pages10
JournalActa Theriologica
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Springer
Rose publication type: Article

Terms of use: (c) Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2011. This is a copy of the authors’ accepted version of this manuscript, and the definitive published version in Acta Theriologica may have changed slightly in response to editing. This version is made available on the University of Bristol’s repository, complying with Springer’s policy on self-archiving (7th April 2008). The original article is available at Please see for the definitive version, and details of how to cite this work


  • Behaviour; hunting; social structure; vigilance; zebras.

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