If zebras are aggressive animals, then why do they sometimes not fend off lion attacks?
Contrary to what most people think, zebras are not easy prey to hunt, even for lions. First off, they’re extremely fast, way faster than any lion – sure enough, a single zebra or a whole stampeding herd can hit whopping speeds of up to 68 km/h (compare this to an average lion’s top speed that’s only 60 km/h); and though these herbivores may not have a major headstart when escaping hungry hunters, years of evolution have carved a solution:
Gradually, zebras become faster as they continuously run, since their hooves permit them in outdistancing their attackers with superior stamina, to the extent of running for kilometres on end; whereas lions heavily lack stamina, for they reach their top speed in only short bursts, and must halt the chase at some point in order to avoid over-heating, at a point of falling behind – and this is what gives zebras a fighting chance.
In light of this, fighting back is not the first line of defense zebras (whether adults or foals) have against lions, as that distinction goes to running like hell in the opposite direction.
When a hunting lion does catch up to its zebra target, things don’t get any better. Indeed, the striped equids are not only fast, but they’re also superbly dangerous and powerful, f or one kick from those back hooves can shatter a lion’s skull, injure it, break its back or knock it out of action – as such, any mistake the golden cat makes when trying to tackle a zebra can spell disaster.
Not only that: if it’s run out of options, a full-grown zebra is more than capable of fighting back, using its bigger size (at around 320 kg, compared to a 130–190 kg lion), equine power, aggression and deadly hooves to wrestle the cat or even kill it – this was the case of a mother zebra that succeeded in protecting her foal from a lioness (see above), by aggressively headbutting the latter and then kicking her right in the face, thereby ensuring a fighting chance for her young.
Another example: in the video above, a zebra managed to release itself from a lioness’s grip by attempting to drown her in deep waters, before successfully escaping and rejoining its herd, while the exhausted lioness gave up. This is further proof that zebras may appear so cute and harmless, but they’re dangerous animals not to underestimate, and they’ll not be going down without a fight…
But most of the time, all these efforts are not enough, for a lot of lions (whether on their own or with comrades at their side) can still be fast, strong and agile enough to bring down a zebra (whether a fully grown adult or a juvenile), and eventually kill it.
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