What Sound Does a Zebra Make: Exploring the Unique Vocalizations of Zebras

Betty Hose

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What Sound Does a Zebra Make

If you had to explain what a zebra sounds like, what would you say? Would you say a horse? After all, it looks like a horse with stripes. Or maybe a donkey?

If you said either of these, you’d be partly right but not entirely because a zebra can sound like quite a few different animals. When asked to describe the sounds a zebra makes, people who work with animals for a living describe a lot of different sounds, such as that of a:

Braying donkey, yapping dog, snorting horse, squealing pig, growling cat. That’s a lot of very different animal sounds, isn’t it?

Different Zebra Sounds

Zebras do, in fact, make a few unique sounds that often sound like other animals. Zebras use these sounds, as well as body postures and facial expressions, to communicate with each other. After studying the three zebra species in Ngorongoro Crater, German zoologist and zebra behaviorist, Hans Klingel attributes six distinct sounds to the zebra:

1. Nicker or Whinny: The nicker or whinny is a breathy, drawn-out grunt indicating satisfaction.

2. Neigh: The neigh is an alarm call to warn the herd of predators.

3. Snort: The snort is produced when a zebra finds itself walking into possibly dangerous underbrush or tall grasses where predators may be hiding.

4. Bray or Bark: The bray or bark sounds like the drawing in and then releasing of air. The zebra makes this sound when encountering other zebras in the herd.

5. Squeal: The squeal is a short, high-pitched sound that an injured zebra makes. It’s often heard when male zebras are aggressive towards each other as they fight to be the dominant stallion in the herd.

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6. Wail: The wail is a long and lingering cry made by young zebras in distress.

Zebra Sounds in a Herd

Whenever you see a herd of zebras you’re sure to hear them as well because they’re very talkative. Although they have a lot to say, zebras use a simple repertoire of sounds. In fact, researchers and modern wildlife experts have recently broken their calls into four main sounds:

1. Bark

2. Bray

3. Snort

4. Nicker

Let’s listen to each of these distinct sounds.

What Does a Baby Zebra Sound Like?

Baby zebras sound a lot like their parents except their calls are more high-pitched. Just like a human baby, a zebra foal appears to have a limited vocabulary and makes a small set of zebra noises and sounds. They communicate mostly with very high-pitched barks – which are usually aimed at their mothers.

Each zebra has its own distinct “zebra sound.” This is one of the reasons why a mother zebra keeps her newborn foal away from other zebras until it’s a few days old. She wants the foal to be able to recognize her scent, her call (bray) and her appearance, that is, her stripes.

What Do Zebra Sounds Mean?

Now that we know what they sound like, let’s find out what zebras are actually saying to each other with all this zebra noise.

1. Bark: The zebra bark is a friendly greeting between zebras. It can also be a way one zebra gets the attention of another zebra. It could be referred to as “What’s up?” in zebra talk!

2. Bray: According to The Behavior Guide to African Mammals, “Braying advertises territorial status,” and is often used to express anger or frustration. Additionally, a male zebra uses a loud bray to demonstrate dominance and as part of his courtship behavior towards a female.

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3. Snort: The zebra’s snort has several meanings. It can be a way of saying “hello” to another zebra or as a warning of danger or aggression. The best way to tell the zebra’s meaning when it snorts is to look at its body language.

4. Nicker: It’s the most special of all the zebra vocalizations because it’s the sound of affection reserved for other members of the herd. Mother zebras can often be heard nickering to their foals.

5 Other Zebra Fun Facts

1. What Makes Up a Zebra Family? And a Herd?

2. What is a Zebroid?

3. Are Zebras Colorblind?

4. Are All Zebra Stripe Patterns the Same? Are Their Stripes White or Black?

5. How do Zebras Protect Themselves?

Come See and Hear the Uniqueness of Zebra Stripes and Sounds for Yourself

Two of the three zebra species are in trouble. Because there are only about 2,000 Grevy’s zebra left, the International Union for Conservation of Nature labels them as threatened. The mountain zebras are listed as vulnerable with only around 9,000 remaining. Fortunately, various organizations such as Wild Animal Safari are working to preserve this beautiful creature.

If you didn’t know that zebra stripes were as different as fingerprints, you need to come see them for yourself at one of our parks in Pine Mountain, Georgia; Stafford, Missouri; and Bryan-College Station, Texas.

And when asked what a zebra sounds like…you can decide for yourself whether it sounds like a horse, donkey, pig or yappy dog. Maybe when asked, you’ll remember to tell them, a zebra sounds like…well, a zebra.

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The Sounds of the Zebra

The awakening sound above is the bark of a zebra. Barking Zebra Tours is often asked about this bark. Yes, zebras actually do bark. In fact, they make four very notable sounds.

We have already mentioned the first. It’s the bark. The bark is distinct. The bark can be loud. It is often analogized to a high-pitched bark of a small dog. Zebras use this bark in order to gain the attention of other zebras. They also use it as a type of acknowledgement when meeting.

The second sound is the bray. Zebras bray much like donkeys do. However, a zebra’s bray has a wider range of sound. It starts in a very low pitch (like a large cat growling) and ends very high (almost like a squealing pig). Zebra’s use their bray to call to potential mates. They also use this sound to express anger or impatience.

A Feeling of Discovery

Our company incorporates a bark within its name not because we are trying to attract other zebras. We use the bark because, for us, it’s more than a sound. It symbolizes an awakening of the senses. It symbolizes a unique feeling of discovery that can only be truly understood on safari. It symbolizes a feeling that we want others to inspire.

Barking Zebra Tours is not just about customizing your perfect African adventure. We are about providing experiences. We are about providing unique moments that will remain in your memories forever.

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