The Quintessential African Trophy
Sometimes unkindly referred to as the "pajama
donkey", the Burchell’s zebra is one of the most exquisite trophies
any bowhunter could wish for and this is one time when size is not
really important, even a rug mount of a sub-adult is eye catching in
They are sometimes erroneously referred to in
Afrikaans as "kwaggas". The true quagga however, whilst closely
related to the Burchell’s zebra, became extinct towards the end of
the last century when the last living specimen died in captivity in
1883. The whistling intake of breath followed by nasal "kwa ha kwa
ha ha" whistling of these animals is one of the unique and
captivating sounds of the African bush. It is thought that the name
"kwagga" originated from the call. Inhabiting open grass plains and
well grassed woodlands this species must surely rank as one of
Africa’s most elegant children.
Belonging to the horse family zebra have typical
horse-like features. The general colour is white or buff with
starkly contrasting dark brown to black stripes, which become broad
and oblique over the hind quarters. Stripes extend very low down to
the belly on the flanks. The height at shoulder is about 50 – 55"
(127 – 140cm) and they weigh in at about 500 – 700lb (230 –320kg).
There is no significant difference in size and weight between the
Stallions however tend to have slightly thicker
necks. The Burchell’s zebra differs from mountain zebra in that the
ears are shorter, a dewlap is absent, there is no "grid" pattern at
the base of the tail and they have lighter shadow stripes between
the black stripes on the hind quarters. Zebra always appear to be in
good condition with shiny coats and well filled out bellies. This
despite the fact that zebra carry one of the highest parasite loads
of all wild animals. Most wild animals are host to many parasites
but zebra have a particularly high load when compared to other
species. Some zebra even have a parasitic worm that lives in the
aortic arch of the aorta as it exits from the heart. Most internal
organs harbour specific parasites.
authorities agree that that Burchell’s zebra has never occurred
south of the Olifants river in South Africa. In the Southern African
sub-region they are found in the north and north eastern parts of
the Koakoveld in Namibia up to the Botswana border. They are
widespread in Botswana north of Lake Ngami and the Makgadigadi pan
and in the Tuli block. They are absent in the central plateau and
eastern districts of Zimbabwe but occur north and south of the
They are found in the north and eastern parts of
Mpumalanga, in parts of Gauteng, Northern province, North West
province and in parts of Natal Kwazulu in South Africa. They also
occur in parts of Swaziland. They are found south of the Zambezi in
Mocambique but are absent in the south and more densely populated
eastern parts of the country.
The Burchell’s zebra is a savanna species that is
partial to open woodland, shrub and grassland where water is readily
available. They avoid dense woodland if possible and although they
occur in dry semi arid areas, they are not found in true desert
country. Their particular habitat preferences and water requirements
often result in seasonal migrations.
are gregarious animals that form small family groups consisting of a
stallion, one or two adult mares and foals of varying ages. Family
group size averages 7 – 10 animals. While herding mares a stallion
keeps it’s head lowered and ears forward. Stallions who have no
mares form bachelor groups or live alone.
Family groups remain distinct even in large
aggregations of zebra. There does not appear to be any social
organization above that of family groups.
Burchell’s zebra are often seen in the company of
blue wildebeest. This is because they both favour short grass areas.
Zebra have loosely organized home ranges and readily move to
wherever food and water are available.
There is quite a lot of group interaction and social
grooming in zebra. They often lean against each other. Vocal
communication is important in this species. Courting stallions "nicker",
animals will whinny or will snort by forcing air through the
nostrils to warn of danger.
When attacked by predators a breeding herd bunches
up. When they run, the stallions hang back or position themselves on
the flank to ward off the predators, which they often do
successfully. Scarred rumps from unsuccessful lion attacks attest to
the effectiveness of their defensive kicks.
to their own detriment, tend to be inquisitive, often returning to
investigate a source of initial flight. This can sometimes give a
bowhunter a second chance if he has "spooked" a herd of zebra.
Competition between rival stallions can sometimes
erupt into full scale fights with biting, kicking and rearing.
Burchell’s zebra are not territorial. Lion and hyaena are the main
predators of zebra. Mortalities also occur through disease. Zebra
are very partial to taking dust baths and it is common to find areas
within their habitat where they roll in the sand or bare ground.
Because they are preyed upon by lion, especially
around waterholes, they are wary when approaching to drink.
FEEDING AND DRINKING
Zebra are mainly grazers, but occasionally will
browse on leaves and scrub. They also dig for grass rhizomes and
corms during the dry season. They graze on short grass and are able
to survive in areas with poor or coarse grass cover.
Zebra have a strong, mobile upper lip which helps to
channel food between the incisors. Two of the favourite grass
species selected by zebra are Cynodon dactylon and Themeda
triandra. They have been observed feeding on the singed leaves
of mopane (Colophospermum mopane) and round leaf teak ("dopper
kiaat") – Pterocarpus rotundifolia.
Zebra are very partial to green flushes which occur
after a burn or following rain. They will also feed on the devil
thorn Tribulus terrestris , a herbaceous pioneer plant
growing on disturbed or overgrazed ground, which is poisonous to
They are very dependent on water and never wander
very far from water holes. Zebra require approximately 14 litres of
water per day to meet their physiological requirements but will
drink an average of 21 litres at a time as the drinking frequency is
in the region of once every 36 hours.
Zebra are not ruminants. They have a single stomach
and a very enlarged portion of the large intestine – the caecum –
fulfills the fermenting function of the four stomachs of ruminants.
Zebra are referred to as hindgut fermenters.
HUNTING THE ZEBRA
Rug mounts make beautiful and eye catching trophies
with their starkly contrasting black and white stripes. As the hide
is the trophy in this animal it is important to ensure that field
preparation and skinning is carried out in a professional and
Signs to look for
If you have been following the series of articles on
tracking you will recall that sign does not only include visual
clues but also those picked up by your other senses as well – such
as sound, smell, touch and taste. Zebra are very vocal animals and
will frequently betray their presence by "barking", whinnying, and
snorting. These sounds can carry a long way in the bush and can lead
you to zebra long before you have a visual sighting. Listen for
Tracks and droppings
tracks of zebra are those of the typical horse-like hoof. The
general hoof structure is well known and should be familiar to
anyone who has seen a horse. The horse family only have one "toe"
(the third) on each leg and only the tip of the toe (the hoof) comes
into contact with the ground.
tracks of Burchell’s zebra resemble those of a small horse. The
length of the track is about 120 – 140mm with the hind track being
slightly longer and narrower. On hard ground only the edges of the
hoof and the frog will be visible. Zebra dung is kidney shaped with
each individual pellet about 50mm in length. It is usually deposited
randomly because zebra are not territorial.
Areas heavily grazed by zebra are often
characterized by trampling and by grass having been cropped fairly
close to the ground. Signs of digging with hooves in search of
underground corms and rhizomes can sometimes be observed.
baths and rubs
Zebra enjoy rolling in sandy areas and they leave
bare, dusty patches behind. They also sometimes choose a convenient
object such as a rock or log to rub themselves on. Hair will be left
behind on the object. See Figure 5 and 6.
Figure 6: A zebra rubbing against a tree. Hair will
be found on the tree.
Hunting techniques for bowhunters
Zebra will be found in well grassed woodland or in
fairly open grassland. It is relatively easy to stalk up to zebra in
woodland but can be quite difficult in open habitat. To the
advantage of the bowhunter zebra are not easily spooked. They are
inquisitive and will sometimes stand to watch an approaching
intruder. They might even approach closer to investigate.
Even after having been stampeded they will stop
after having run off a short distance. It is not unusual for them to
return to the site of disturbance to investigate the source of their
fright. Although zebra will allow you to approach them in open
habitat their flight distance is too far to fall within bow range.
It is therefore advisable to try, as far as possible, to approach
without being seen or to position yourself to intercept a herd along
its direction of travel.
Zebra have a keen sense of sight, hearing, and
Always approach downwind if possible. Zebra are
successfully hunted using spot and stalk and walk and stalk
techniques, or using hides or elevated platforms. In open areas the
use of a ground blind or even hiding in a disused aardvark burrow
are further options open to the bowhunter.
The dependence of zebra on water make waterholes and
the approaches to waterholes good ambush sites. A good hunter can
sometimes call zebra in by mimicking the "kwa ha kwa ha ha" call.
away and broadside shots into the heart lung area should be the
target area of choice. See Figure 7. Frontal and rear end shots are
not advised. When taking a broadside shot be careful of placing the
shot too far forward as the shoulder blade (scapula) and upper bone
of the foreleg (humerus) are quite substantial and will definitely
have a detrimental effect on arrow penetration. Concentrate on the
top of the crease at the back of the foreleg or slightly behind it
for good arrow placement.
Zebra are fairly broad animals and arrow pass
through is not always guaranteed. Incomplete pass through will
result in a poorer blood spoor. Fortunately the open to semi-open
habitat frequented by zebra usually makes follow up fairly straight
forward after a good shot.
Wait a minimum of 30 minutes before following up
after a heart/lung shot, at least 2 to 3 hours after a liver shot
and 10 to 12 hours before you begin looking for a gut shot animal.
Zebra have a fairly slow blood clotting time. Blood
clots in about 9 to 11 minutes.
They lose a lot of blood therefore before the
clotting process becomes effective. This works to the bowhunters
Any efficient bow of 60lbs or more will be able,
with the help of a good broadhead tipped arrow, and good shot
placement, to dispatch a fully grown zebra. Carbon, wooden and
aluminium arrows have all been used with good effect when matched to
the right bows.
A complete arrow weight of at least 500 grains is
advised. The arrow / broadhead combination must be able to deliver a
momentum of 0.4 or a kinetic energy of 60 – 70 foot pounds.
Don’t go too light. A heavier arrow having higher
momentum will penetrate better through tissue and bone than will a
A strong, well constructed , one-piece broadhead of
high mechanical advantage and cut on impact point is suggested.
Remember that two-blade broadheads will generally
have better penetration than three or four blades. Three blade
broadheads will however keep the wound channel open and give a
better blood trail to follow.
Hunting techniques for rifle hunters
It is relatively easy to get within rifle range on
foot when hunting zebra. A heart lung shot would be a good choice of
shot if the range is a bit far as it presents the biggest target.
When using a scope or at closer range the neck and
brain shot are also options.
BULLET WEIGHT AND TYPE
7mm Remington Magnum
150 or 160 grain SP, NP
150, 165 or 180 grain SP, NP
150, 165, 180 or 200 grain SP, NP
.300 Winchester Magnum
150, 165, 180 or 200 grain SP, NP
.300 Weatherby Magnum
150, 165, 180 or 200 grain SP, NP
.338 Winchester Magnum
180, 200, 225,or 250 grain SP, NP
.340 Weatherby Magnum
200, 225 or 250 grain SP, NP
.350 Remington Magnum
200 grain SP
.375 Holland & Holland Magnum
250, 270 or 300 grain SP, NP
378 Weatherby Magnum
270 or 300 grain Barns –X or RN
* SP – Soft Point NP - Nosler Partition
RN – Round Nose
One thing to bear in mind when choosing the neck
shot as an option is that there is a thick ligament running in the
top of the neck above the spine which if hit will cause the animal
to drop in its tracks as if with a spinal shot.
Don’t be surprised if, when approaching the animal
it suddenly gets up and runs off!
Cheney holds a bachelor of science degree in zoology and
a master’s degree in animal physiology. He is a
wilderness trail leader, rated field guide instructor
and the author of many leading articles on the subjects
of tracking, guiding, bowhunting and survival. Cleve has unrivalled experience in wildlife management, game capture and hunting, both with bow and rifle.
Click here to visit his site
Reading in the history books of the old west there
are records of cowboys actually using this technique to capture wild
The idea is to place a neck shot at about the
midpoint of the thickness of the neck and not aim too high in the
Choice of equipment
There are a wide range of calibre and bullet choices
for hunting zebra. Some of the many possibilities are listed in the
Avoid using solids. Soft point bullets will work for
brain neck or heart lung shots.