Zebra nutrition

Source: Dublin Zoo, 2004
A groundbreaking study looking at the nutritional condition of zebra E. burchelli. The first part of the study aimed to quantify the current diets used for the zebra in Dublin and in Fota Wildlife Park, through behavioural time-budgets and nutritional analysis.
They compared the results with previously published studies on wild zebra and other equids. In addition, they determined the nutritional content of the diet by chemical analysis of each foodstuff for the major nutrients, i.e. energy, crude protein, neutral detergent fibre, acid detergent fibre, oil, total ash, and non-structural carbohydrates.

The results of the activity budgets showed that the herds in captivity spent more time resting and less time in locomotion than their wild counterparts did. They ate for approximately the same length of time. This was resulting in the animals consuming more energy than they were expending through movement. Thus, the majority of the animals in the study were slightly overweight.

The final aim of this project was to determine an ‘ideal’ grass mix for paddocks housing zebra. They did a series of taste test trails to assess whether the zebra showed any preference for individual grass species. They used seven agricultural and four tropical grasses for the nutritional analysis. The results indicated that nutrient content was not the sole basis for preference in the zebra tested. The form of the grass matted too. Zebra have a marked preference for tuft forming stalky grass rather than mat forming grasses with no central stalks. The tropical grasses were the large serrated and hairy leaves. The study concluded that it would be possible to feed the zebra with tropical grass species, a high proportion of creeping red fescue and smaller proportions of perennial rye grass. The last named grass is higher in fibre and lower in energy content than the other grasses tested.