Zebra stripes have given rise to much debate as to their function. There are numerous theories. One theory is that the stripes could act as camouflage by breaking up their outline. An argument against this explanation is that zebra do not respond in the way that animals reliant on camouflage do. They are vocal, noisy, and do not freeze in response to danger. Another theory, supported to a degree by experimentation, is that the stripes help zebra avoid blood- sucking flies such as the tsetse, that find their hosts by sight. However the counter argument states that tsetse live in woodland whereas zebra mainly frequent open grassland habitat.
Another suggestion is that the stripes on zebras in a group disrupt the outlines of individual animals and makes it difficult for a hunting predator to focus on and single out an individual animal as it rushes in. This idea might have some merit but if so, it could not be considered very effective, as a range of predators including lion, wild dogs and spotted hyaena successfully hunt zebra. Another theory, based on the fact that no two coat patterns are the same, is that the stripe patterns of zebra mother is imprinted on her newborn foal who subsequently is able to recognize her by her peculiar pattern, even when she is standing in a group. Zebra species can also be distinguished from one another by virtue of their stripes. Burchell’s zebra (Equus burchelli) as shown in these images, differs from both the Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and Grevy’s zebra(Equus grevyi), (which does not occur in South Africa) by having brownish “shadow” stripes between the black stripes. Stripes in Grevy’s and mountain zebra do not pass under the belly as they do with the Burchell’s zebra. The legs of the former two are striped right down to the hooves whereas the inner and lower aspect of Burchell’s zebra do not have stripes.