Everything you ever wanted to know about zebras can be found right here in black and white in this remarkable book. Zebras are popular animals, being described in Thomas Pennant's 1871 History of Quadrupeds with words such as elegant, useless, gregarious, untamable, and vicious. Many regard zebras as striped horses, but more likely horses could be considered zebras whose stripes have been lost. Like the other equids, zebras probably originated in North America, but since the last Ice Age they are found only in Africa. The three zebra species have many differences in physical and behavioral characteristics. They feature hooves consisting of one large toe, powerful jaws with durable teeth for grass grazing, and large eyes with binocular vision, but an inability to focus sharply. Two zebra species are considered endangered, and conservation efforts are critical. Like many other animals, they are being threatened by overexploitation, habitat destruction, and climate change.
The zebra shows up in numerous areas of human history and culture. When British King George III married Duchess Sophia Charlotte, a ship's captain wanted to give the couple a pair of zebras as a wedding gift, but only the female arrived alive. Nevertheless, she attracted large crowds, even though she often kicked spectators. British botanist William Burchell spent years exploring South Africa, making detailed notes and drawings as well as collecting thousands of specimens of plants and animals. Unsuccessful in his quest to find a unicorn, he was honored by becoming the namesake for Burchell's zebra. Zebras are also associated with female beauty: the !Kung girls of the San religion in the Kalahari Desert decorate their bodies with stripes of ochre and ash to imitate the zebra's stripes. Interesting zebra stripe stories are common in many African tales and even Rudyard Kipling's 1902 story “How the Leopard Got His Spots” speaks of the zebra. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst had a private zoo outside his estate, and descendants of his zebras can still be seen today grazing along California highways.
The zebra has found its way into considerable art. South African rock art more than 20,000 years old depicts zebras along with humans and other animals. They are found on numerous African postage stamps, and the coat of arms of Botswana shows two zebras. In Gaza, Palestine, a sixth-century synagogue features a floor mosaic of a zebra and a giraffe. The Zebra Room, a Los Angeles restaurant whose walls, chair, and table décor featured zebra art, was a place where Hollywood stars gathered in the 1940s. Italian artist Ugo Mochi found that zebras were perfect themes for artists “working purely in black and white.” There are even zebra toys. An American talking toy, Robert the Zebra, is programmed with zebra facts such as “I can run pretty fast; about 35 miles an hour.” Prince George, young heir to the British throne, was given a hand-carved rocking zebra as a Christmas gift. Zebra-print designs are found on a variety of entities, including furniture, clothing, the cloth cover of Osa Johnson's book I Married Adventure, and a 1932 twin-engine airplane. Even striped street crossings, like the one pictured on the album cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road, are known as zebra crossings. Because of the black and white stripes, zebras have even lent their name to other animals: zebrafishes, zebra finches, zebra spiders, zebra mussels, and zebra sharks. The question on everyone's mind – whether zebras are black with white stripes or white with black stripes – hasn't been answered definitively, though most scientists choose the first option.
Part of Reaktion Books' ambitious Animal series, which presents various animals from a natural and cultural history perspective, this exhaustively researched and brilliantly crafted volume is appropriate for college or advanced high school readers. It would be a valuable addition to a classroom library. Profusely illustrated with captivating photographs, it also includes a timeline of the zebra, extensive endnote documentation of the text, a bibliography, a list of associations and websites, and an index.
AMANDA L. GLAZE is an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades and Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. In addition to science teacher education, she has taught courses in biological sciences for grades 7–12 and undergraduate students over the last 12 years. Her interests include evolutionary biology, science and religion, and the intersections of science and society – specifically where scientific understandings are deemed controversial by the public. Glaze holds degrees in science education from the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University. Her address is Department of Middle Grades and Secondary Education, Georgia Southern University, P.O. Box 8134, Statesboro, GA 30458; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.