Horrific Zebra on Zebra Attack: Why is this Stallion Attempting to Kill a Baby Zebra?Reading Time: 6 minutes
A vicious zebra on baby zebra attack is not what most people expect to see when they go on safari. Yet that is exactly what horrified onlookers ended up witnessing while on a safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park.
In general, zebras don’t have the easiest life. They are prey animals, so they must spend their lives constantly on guard. Lions could spring from bushes. Leopards could drop from trees. Even the simple act of getting a drink of water can be deadly, with crocodiles lurking just below the surface, waiting to make them a meal. Danger is, in fact, an ever present part of a zebra’s life. So you probably think that these vegetarians would at least be able to trust a fellow zebra, right? Well, you would be terribly wrong. Because as you will soon learn, a zebra might be another a zebra baby’s worst enemy.
To humans, baby animals are adorable and cute. But to predators, they are easy pickings when compared with a healthy adult of the same species. For example, a healthy adult zebra can kill or severely maim a predator by delivering a vicious kick or striking at it with its front hooves. So a young baby that will be barely able to defend itself or can’t run as fast as an adult is a preferable target for a predator. A male zebra killing baby zebras often happen in the wild.
And while it may be horrifying to watch or to think about, most of us understand why predators need to attack and kill baby animals. On the other hand, infanticide – when an animal kills a baby of its own kind — is a much harder concept for humans to understand. Humans, of course, believe that babies need to be protected and nurtured. And there’s nothing worse in a human’s eyes than a person who kills a baby or a child. So when we see a stallion purposely killing a baby zebra, we are horrified because this pretty much goes against what we believe is the morally right thing to do.
But zebra stallions live by a different moral code than we do. A zebra stallion will, of course, protect his own babies. But the offspring of another male is not a cute little baby. Instead, what a zebra stallion sees when it looks at the offspring of another stud is a baby that could grow up to be a potential rival or a vessel for a gene pool that isn’t his own. To a stallion, zebra infanticide makes total sense.
A stallion also has another reason to kill a rival’s baby. If he manages to murder the foal, it could accelerate the onset of the mother’s estrus cycle, which means that he could then mate with her and have his own babies. So in the eyes of the male zebra, that cute, black-and-white bundle of fur must die.
Why do male zebra kill baby zebras? They aren’t the only creatures that commit infanticide. Wild horse, which are related to zebras, will also commit infanticide. Male lions are also notorious for killing the babies of a rival. That was, in fact, a major concern when in 2015, a dentist killed a famous male lion in Zimbabwe known as Cecil. When Cecil was poached, his fans were worried that another lion would take over his pride and kill all of his babies. At first, it looked as if Cecil’s brother and co-leader of the pride, Jericho, would watch over the slain lion’s babies. But, instead, Jericho reportedly left to join another pride. And just as many had predicted, at least one of Cecil’s babies was then killed by a rival lion trying to mate with its mom.
Although wildlife experts have known that zebras commit infanticide, this 2015 incident was one of the few times that the act has actually been filmed. This vicious attack was caught on video by a tourist, Daniel Tjarnen, while he was on safari in the popular wildlife park in Namibia. In an interview with LatestSightings.com, Tjarnen explained that his safari group had been driven to “…the waterhole, hoping to get some good sightings and especially hoping to see some predators.” But as they pulled up, Tjarnen said, “Instead of predators, we saw this dazzle of zebras drinking from the waterhole. We suddenly noticed that the one zebra was actively attacking a young foal.”
As Tjarnen’s video begins, you can see the stallion has grabbed the foal by a hind leg and is trying to hold it underwater, while its mother and another mare watch helplessly from the side. It’s truly a gut-wrenching scene, especially since you can hear the horrified passengers on the safari crying and begging the stallion to “stop it!” The mother of the foal is inching towards the aggressive stallion. You can tell that she wants to save her baby, but the mare also knows that the stallion is bigger and more powerful than she is. So she knows that she must proceed with caution because in the wild, an injured animal is as good as dead.
Somehow, the mare’s baby manages to struggle to its feet even though the stallion is still biting its leg and still has its head underwater. With a few frantic kicks, the brave foal does its best to escape from the killer stallion. At the same time, the baby’s mother tentatively moves in to help the wee one in its desperate attempt to get away.
The stallion, though, is not about to give up. Even as the onlookers beg it to “Leave him alone,” the stallion lunges onto the foal and then kneels on top of it. It appears as if the stallion is now trying to crush the youngster to death. This is when the foal’s mother makes her move. First, she nips at the stallion’s muzzle. When that doesn’t work, she nips at him again. Aggravated, the stallion charges at the mare, forgetting for a second about the foal. The onlookers cry out, “Run, baby, run! Run, run.”
As it struggles to its feet, the foal appears slightly dazed by the stallion zebra attack. So instead of running, it stops to shake its head, which gives the stallion enough time to once again resume its attack. Finally realizing that it is in danger again, the baby tries to escape. Unfortunately, he runs into the water, which slows his ability to escape. In seconds, the stallion is upon the foal. As he charges at the baby, he also unleashes a vicious kick at the mother.
Undaunted, the mother bites the vicious stallion in the neck. And, once again, the aggravated stallion decides to chase after the mare. Unfortunately, her frightened baby continues to struggle in the water instead of heading towards land. As the water gets deeper, the confused foal stops, which gives the stallion yet another chance to kill the helpless baby.
The stallion is unrelenting in his attack, savagely biting at the foal’s rear end. After what seems like ages, the baby finally turns and heads towards land. There are several times when it appears as if the baby will not make it out of the water alive, but then you can see its hooves touch solid dry earth. And, for once, it seems as if the little baby might have a fighting chance to live. At one point, the stallion even stumbles as he chases after the baby, giving the onlookers some hope that the foal might finally be able to escape.
But the zebra attack is not over yet. As the foal takes off at full speed for his life, the stallion is right behind him. The mare seeing her chance runs deliberately between the stallion and her baby in an apparent effort to slow the vicious male down. Sadly, it doesn’t work, and the angry stallion manages to grab the baby by its rear leg or tail and upends it in a cloud of dust. The onlookers are crying, “Help him! No!” as the foal tumbles and is seemingly now at the mercy of the crazy stallion.
But this time, it’s the mother’s turn to attack, and she bites the stallion several times on the back. With the stallion busy trying to defend itself, the foal once again scrambles to its feet and run for its life. At this point, the mother, stallion and baby are a swirl of black and white stripes lost in a cloud of dust, and it’s hard to see who is attacking whom.
Finally, the three gallop off towards some trees. A third zebra who had been watching up until now decides to join the fray. The video ends with the four zebras disappearing into the bushes. No one is sure what exactly happened to the foal after that, though Tjarnen speculates that the baby might have been injured after the vicious attack, “I think it survived for the time being, but it looked injured. Maybe it was chased off or killed later on by a passing predator.”
Tjarnen added, “[At] first, it was a bit shocking. But then I thought it’s the way of nature.” And, yes, nature can be very harsh, especially for young foals. This particular baby may or may not have survived the vicious attack by the stallion, but if he did die, it would — sadly — not be unusual. According to Zebrafacts.net, approximately half of the zebra babies born don’t live to their first birthday.
But that is why nature — in her wisdom — makes sure that prey animals, such as wildebeest, zebras and antelopes — give birth around the same time and in large numbers. That way even if predators manage to kill a good chunk of the babies born each year, there will still be many more left to grow into adulthood.
Even so, it is sad to know that these ever-so-cute zebra foals are prime game for many different predators. Leopards, for example, hunt alone, so it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a leopard to kill an adult zebra on its own. But they can and do kill zebra foals. This leopard has attacked, killed and then dragged a zebra foal high up into a tree. That’s quite a feat when you consider that the foal probably weighed about the same as this big cat. Leopards like to stash their kill high off the ground so that other predators, such as hyenas and lions, won’t be able to steal it from them.
Because they are slight of built and usually hunt alone, cheetahs tend to attack foals rather than adult zebras, too. However, cheetahs do sometimes work together with, say, their siblings, to take down larger animals. So cheetahs do on occasion kill adult zebras. But it’s never easy work. An ornery zebra stallion typically has no problem going after a cheetah while defending its herd.
Of course, zebras are a preferred meal for lions. And while it may be much easier for lions to hunt and take down a baby zebra, the small carcass would offer very little meat for a hungry pride. An adult zebra, on the other hand, would provide a pride of lions a decent amount of food. But lions also know that hunting adult zebras is a dangerous task. This lion, for example, was injured while trying to take down this zebra, who wasn’t in mood to become dinner that day.
This young male lion also learned how difficult it can be to finish off a zebra kill. These types of incidents can lead to life-threatening injuries for a lion. If the zebra breaks a lion’s jaw, for example, with a well-timed kick, that lion will no longer be able to participate in hunts or to eat. There are, in fact, quite a few videos on YouTube showing lions trying to, but failing to kill zebras.
Although many people think of hyenas as scavengers, they are also wily, ruthless predators. And because they hunt in packs, they are able to take down animals much larger than themselves, such as zebra. Sadly, this heavily pregnant zebra was unable to get away from a pack of hyenas and was eventually killed.
Another small predator that can take down a zebra is the wild dog. Hunting in large groups, wild dogs attack zebra by tormenting and harassing them until they can spot a weaker animal or can separate a foal from its mother. They then use their numbers to overwhelm and attack a prey animal from all sides.
Then there is the water. Often, zebras have to make river crossings that are fraught with peril. One of the most famous of these river crossings is located on the Grumeti River in the northwest Serengeti. During the Great Migration that occurs every year through Kenya and Tanzania, approximately 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras attempt to cross this river. Unfortunately for the wildebeest and zebras, large crocodiles are always waiting for the animals to make this deadly crossing. The scene is one of absolute carnage as the crocodiles attack zebra and wildebeest who are trying to make their way to the other shore.
But it’s not just big river crossings that can be dangerous. The simple act of getting a drink of water can also prove to be deadly for zebras, as crocodiles often wait by the shore. This zebra found out the hard way that if you’re going to get a drink, it’s better if you stay on the shore.
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