Some of our fascination may be that they look so much like a familiar and friendly companion animal, but are so different in character - the lure of the untamable. Humans have not been able to domesticate zebras, though many attempts have been made. As a species, they are recognized as undomesticable. Zebras have keen senses and are strong runners with excellent dodging and ducking abilities, and if caught, fight fiercely.
The pattern of stripes on a zebra is just as individual as a fingerprint. While the black and white pattern covers their body in their fur, their skin is solidly dark brown or black. There are multiple ideas about why zebras have stripes. A popular idea is that they gave the protection of camouflage, letting zebras blend into their environment, or blur together as a group so that it is difficult for a predator to pick out one zebra. Another theory is that the stripes may help keep zebras cooler; the dark stripes soak up heat, the white stripes reflect it, and between the two, there is a gentle movement of air. Another study showed that biting flies don't like stripes, so perhaps the pattern helps zebras not get bitten as much.
Zebras are social animals. They live in herds which are usually made of one male, several females, and their offspring. They groom each other, nibbling each other carefully to remove loose hair. Sometimes these family groups gather into large mega-herds of thousands to migrate together for water or food. The herds may even include other types of grazing animals, like wildebeests. This gives them protection against the predators who hunt and eat zebras.
Zebras are herbivores; they primarily eat grass, but will eat leaves, bark and fruit when it is available. Because grass has a low nutrient value, they spend 60-80% of their time eating.
Habitat loss is a threat to zebras, as fences block off their access to food and territory and they have to compete with livestock for the sometimes-scarce water supply. Due to habitat loss, there are several countries in Africa that no longer have zebras, and one species of zebra and several subspecies are endangered or vulnerable.
There is one type of zebra that is extinct; it was known as the quagga, and had stripes only on its head; the rump was solid. Genetically, it was a subspecies of the plains zebra. There is a group in South Africa called the Quagga project, that is trying to resurrect this coloration using selective breeding to try to bring out latent genes among still living zebras.
Zebras are beautiful animals, similar but not like some that we know well. They raise questions about our familiar companions, and have a lot of interesting characteristics of their own. They will be fascinating people for years to come.