Roger and Lesley Hills were staying at Chitabe Camp when they came across an unusual interaction between zebra and tsessebe. What happened next took everyone by complete surprise.
We stopped at the area because another vehicle had seen the zebra deliberately kick the young tsessebe calf and break its front right leg before being chased off. The stallions started fighting between themselves and were getting worked up. Unfortunately the calf, being wounded, struggled to keep up with mum. She went to have a drink at the waterhole while the calf lay in the grass to wait for her. The zebras also attempted to attack the other tsessebe calf that was present but the mother managed to chase them off.
Having finished fighting between themselves, the zebra stallions approached the calf lying in the grass, circling and sniffing it. The proper attack then began. Both mum and the other female valiantly tried to defend the calf but they were blocked by one of the stallions while the one intent on causing damage did so. The attacking stallion kicked and bit the helpless calf and kept up the attack for some time. Eventually the stallion got bored and went off with the rest of his group.
The calf did manage to unsteadily get back to its feet but it was clear it had been mortally wounded. We decided to leave but returned later to the scene. The calf was lifeless and we could see a clear bite wound on the belly and broken leg.
We are aware that zebras will kill the foal of a previous stallion but our guide remarked that he had never seen this type of cross-species behaviour before.
So what would have caused this unusual behaviour? My first thought was that the stallions had very high testosterone levels. Other suggestions are that the smaller sized and dun-coloured youngster was perceived as a carnivore by the zebra, or, that the dry conditions drove some competition-oriented response. There are also reports of similar behaviour having been witnessed between zebras chasing and mortally wounding a cheetah, and a few years ago, a zebra was seen chasing and killing a wildebeest calf at Mombo.
It was remarkable to see this and we were amazed at the fellow tsessebe female and the way in which she tried to help the poor mother who had lost her calf.
Has anyone else seen a similar attack before? Please share your story with us by posting in the comments below.