The term ‘zebra’ includes three distinct (to them, anyway) species of genus Equus (from the Latin meaning ‘equinox’) whose range extends from South Africa through Angola and Kenya. There is also a small population in Long Beach. The word ‘zebra’ comes from the Old Portuguese zevra, meaning ‘wild ass (with stripes that lives in Africa).’
The zebra is a classic case of being a small fish in a big pond. If zebras had the sense to, say, move to Wisconsin, they would instantly be the coolest animal in the history of Wisconsin. Everyone would be going to Wisconsin just to see the weird black-and-white striped horses that run around the woods up there. Every time one showed up in your backyard, you’d scream like a maniac and take a thousand pictures and call the local news. There would be diamond-shaped yellow highway signs with striped horses stenciled on them to let you know that, in this area, you gotta watch out for crazy striped horses crossing the road. People who weren’t drunk would think they were drunk. Drunk people would think they were much drunker. Children would cry. Innumerable roadside shops would open up with people selling striped horse souvenirs and keychains. In short, literally nothing would get done in the entire country until someone – anyone – figured out what the dickens was going on with the Wisconsin Mystery Wild Ass.
Unfortunately the zebra has stubbornly refused to move to Wisconsin, even though the schools are great and there are good sports teams to root for. Instead, the zebra has stayed in their old neighborhood (Africa), and as such has consistently been voted the Least Awesome Animal of the Serengeti Plain. In the high school social structure that is Nature, zebras are the Emo kids who get picked on constantly but still insist on dressing weird. And even with their goofy outfits, nobody pays much attention to them anyway. Indeed, the number one question from tourists on African Safari is, ‘When can we stop looking at stupid zebras and go find a cheetah?’
And as we all know, life on the plains of Africa is hardly easy for the average zebra, who has about a 42 percent chance of being run down and eaten by a big cat. Again – not to belabor the point – but this just makes the not-Wisconsin decision just all the more confusing. Even more confusing are zebra’s two completely ridiculous modes of defense against being eaten. These are a) running together in a group and b) standing perfectly still and hoping that lions are colorblind and thus unable to see their well-camouflaged-against-colorblind-lions-yet-still-delicious hides.
However, in all fairness, the zebra has several redeeming qualities as well. For starters, as anyone who knows someone who once took a trip to Africa knows, they make attractive and slightly exotic rugs that lend a cosmopolitan and even slightly pretentious air to almost any home. Also, tasteless purses. In addition, zebra have excellent hearing, limited night vision, and are thought to be able to see in color (though this last attribute is disputed by the zebra’s rumored habit of cheating on color blindness tests).
Moreover, their stripe pattern is white-on-black and not black-on-white. Why is that the case? Science says it is. Get used to it. But what’s really interesting is that their stripe pattern is thought to disorient tsetse flies who would otherwise be biting a less-striped animal.
And on the subject of stripes – each zebra, like the giraffe, has its own unique stripe pattern, a fact that was related to the world during the longest and most tedious PhD dissertation in human history. Other findings include that zebras live in groups called ‘harems,’ which they actually chose as a name before learning what it meant and then just stuck with it rather than going back and changing all the stationery and business cards. In addition, while most regular horses just stand around quietly and only every so often do a little bit of neighing, zebras constantly communicate with each other with high pitched barks and whinnying.
And let’s not forget that zebras also smell really, really, really bad. This was discovered by Animal Review during a winter trip to the zoo. Because of the snow, many of the animals were being kept indoors, and suffice it to say that the olfactory experience that accompanied walking into the zebra enclosure was nearly debilitating. So they have that too.
Finally, the zebra has proven itself nearly impossible to domesticate. Whereas Europe and Asia pretty much got the horse-riding thing down thousands of years ago, Africa’s zebra is famously panicky and difficult to control, essentially ruling out any hopes of domestication, with a few exceptions that prove the rule from crazy British colonialists. And from a historical standpoint, not having big, sturdy animals to ride is a pretty bad deal. So while horses and camels were busy transporting goods for trade and winning wars, zebras were spazzing, kicking and barking, and not moving to Wisconsin.
In short, the zebra is a cautionary tale of the importance of self-awareness. By insisting on living in Africa among much cooler animals, the zebra has allowed itself to become deeply underrated. The truth is that zebras have a lot to offer – the rugs, the stink, the complete uselessness as beasts of burden. They would be wise to move somewhere where these qualities could be nurtured and appreciated. Wisconsin is waiting.