Zebra ‘on the roll’

No two zebras are the same, they have a unique marking pattern

In Summary

• They like to find a patch of dust and then repeatedly roll in it

Zebra on the roll
Zebra on the roll

Year after year, the plains zebra faithfully return to the Nairobi Park to seek fine pasture. In recent years, this feat is becoming more and more challenging with the pressures of human encroachment. So it is again amazing that they returned in such numbers this year, totaling quite a few thousand.

It has always been a favourite habit of mine to approach a herd of zebra, slowly idle and edge the vehicle closer and closer until virtually in the middle of the herd, and then switch off the vehicle and observe them.  

A particularly strange activity that they do is to find a patch of dust and then repeatedly roll in it, effectively dust bathing their coats. Often the herd seemingly waits in line to all roll on exactly the same dust spot.

There are various possible reasons for this behaviour, including a protective dust layer that results in minimising parasites and thermo-cooling their coats in the African heat. Maybe the action could also be linked to communal scent marking of the herd?

Whatever the reason, it is always interesting to watch the zebra when they are “on the roll”! They all have a unique marking pattern, with no zebra being the same, much the same as human fingerprints.

There are two sub-genus of zebra, namely Hippotigris & Dolichohippus. There are five sub species across Africa in the genus Hippotigris, of which the plains zebra in East Africa is part.

The name zebra comes from the old Portuguese word “Zevra”, meaning “wild ass”, and in Swahili, they are known as Punda Milia.

They are quite observant and very sensitive regarding predator awareness. I have seen many encounters with lions by just sitting still with the herd.

Try it some day, just remember your camera.


The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.

For more information on the park you can link to the following website