Aggressive Male Zebras Have A Horrifying Dark Side

Aggressive Male Zebras Have A Horrifying Dark Side


Black stripes aren’t the darkest part of a zebra — aggression and infanticide run rampant through the species.

Image: William Warby, Flickr

While zebras might appear to be one of the more innocuous mammals to roam the African plains, their social structure is rooted in violence. Zebras form harems controlled by one dominant stallion, reigning over as many as six adult females and foals. Younger stallions form bachelor groups until they reach an age where they are capable of fighting for their own females.

Males frequently battle each other over females, often in an attempt to steal them for their own harem. These fights can be extremely violent, leading to the eventual death of the losing competitor. Occasionally, males also engage in play fights in which they practice their skills and develop effective techniques they can subsequently apply when they are older.

Image: Joe Pyrek, Flickr

But aggression is not the darkest side of a zebra’s nature. If a male zebra obtains a pregnant female for his harem, he will repeatedly rape the female until she aborts the pregnancy. The rape triggers the release of hormones which will cause her body to resorb the fetus or miscarry. In the event the female goes to term, the foal will usually be killed at birth — although the likelihood of infanticide decreases the more time passes between birth and the introduction of the male, according to this study published in Science Direct.

And zebras aren’t the only ones who exhibit this shocking behavior. Lions, chimpanzees and occasionally bottlenose dolphins also kill their rivals’ babies in order to free up the mothers to become fertile more quickly so the new males can father their own child.

In the shocking footage below, a male zebra attempts to drown a foal sired by a rival male at a lake in Etosha National Park, Namibia.