The Plains Zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchelli) is the most common and widespread form of zebra, once being found on plains and grasslands from the south of Ethiopia right through east Africa as far south as Angola and eastern South Africa. Because of hunting for meat and hides, and human encroachment on much of their former habitat, Plains Zebras are much less numerous than they used to be, but they remain common in game reserves and by far the most numerous of the three zebra species.
Plains Zebras are mid-sized and thick-bodied with relatively short legs. Adults of both sexes stand about 1.4 metres high at the shoulder, are 2.3 metres long, and weigh about 230 kilos. Like all zebras, they are boldly striped in black and white and no two individuals are the same. There are currently three recognised subspecies, plus two further subspecies which are now extinct. All have vertical stripes on the forepart of the body, which tend towards the horizontal on the hindquarters. In the north, the stripes are narrower and more defined, southern populations have varied but lesser amounts of striping on the underparts, the legs and the hindquarters. The first subspecies to be described, the Quagga which is now extinct, had plain brown hindquarters. (Technically, because the Quagga was described first as E. quagga, the proper zoological name for the most common form of the Plains Zebra is E. quagga burchelli.)
Plains Zebras are highly social and usually form small family groups consisting of a single stallion, one, two, or several mares, and their recent offspring. Groups are permanent, and group size tends to vary with habitat: in poor country the groups are small. From time to time, Plains Zebra families group together into large herds, both with one another and with other grazing species, notably wildebeests
Unlike many of the large ungulates of Africa, Plains Zebras prefer but do not require short grass to graze on. In consequence, they range more widely than many other species, even into woodland, and they are often the first grazing species to appear in a well-vegetated area. Only after zebras have cropped and trampled the long grasses do wildebeests and gazelles move in. Nevertheless, for protection from predators, Plains Zebras retreat into open areas with good visibility at night time, and take it in turns to stand watch. They eat a wide range of different grasses, preffering young, fresh growth where available, and also browse on leaves and shoots from time to time.