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Valley to Valley

Valley to Valley

Crawshay Zebra in Luangwa
Crawshay Zebra in Luangwa
Will Burrard-Lucas, Norman Carr Safaris

Introducing the first in a series of four columns by experienced safari hand Gid Carr.

In that great era of discovery when you could still name an animal after yourself, the hunter and collector Captain Richard Crawshay identified a new sub-species of plains Zebra. We love our Crawshay’s zebra which trot proudly around the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi valleys, defiant and dazzling with their clean, neat stripes and ever rotund bellies.

In the Luangwa Valley, the Kunda and Bisa people call zebra ‘chimbwete’ or ‘boli’, and the Goma people of the Lower Zambezi call them ‘mbidzi’. Luangwa legend has it that traditional hunters were reluctant to kill and eat zebra - apparently their genitalia resemble that of humans too closely!

Herds usually consist of a stallion and his harem of fillies – he will establish this harem by abducting young females in their first oestrus from other herds. The females don’t seem to mind, in fact they advertise their availability by straddling their legs, lowering their heads and raising their tails. Once part of the harem and bonded to their herd master, they keep subsequent periods of oestrus between themselves and their stallion.

A new harem member is initially given a tough time by the incumbent females but creeps up the hierarchy as she becomes established. She will give birth well away from the herd; mother and foal spend two or three days bonding before re-joining the family. Then, as they mature sexually, the males drift off to join other bachelors and the fillies stay around until some stallion Valentino sweeps them off their hooves.

There have been many ‘how did the zebra get its stripes’ theories. One of the latest hypothesizes that the stripes discourage tsetse flies and other bloodsucking insects. Zebra stripes apparently disrupt polarized light, making the animals unattractive to the insects. So far we haven’t seen any safari guests arriving in zebra stripes. However, judging by the number of zebra we see with huge scars on their rumps where a lion has almost brought them down, zebra stripes might not be the best choice of attire for walking safaris!

I’m told that Crawshay’s is easily distinguishable from other more common or garden plains Zebra by the fact that its lower incisors lack an infundibulum. Of course – so obvious! But whatever it is that distinguishes them, we are fiercely proud of ‘our’ zebras. Thank you, Captain Crawshay, for noticing that lack of an infundibulum.

A zebra by any other name…

Researching this piece has thrown up an interesting conundrum. There has been some question whether the Lower Zambezi  zebra is in fact Crawshay’s. The received knowledge appears to be that they are Crawshay’s and even the rigorous LZ guides exams perpetuate this. Evidently however, no-one can say with 100% certainty that they are indeed Crawshay’s. Comments, insights and information most welcome!

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 12, March 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Luangwa

Other related stories from the Zambezi Traveller:
Where do the Zebra go
Findings reveal critical wildlife corridors
Zebra Without Borders
A Confusion of Stripes
The secrets of Hwange’s zebra

Zambezi Traveller Directory:
Chongwe Safaris
Norman Carr Safaris