Why Zebras weren't domesticated (and other useless information)
It didn’t take long in Africa to be confronted with a lot of questions as we toured the cities and bush. One that I asked myself, seeing all the zebras, but seeing none put to work like the donkey, the horse, the oxen. I guess the same could be asked of the water buffalo, though that seems easier to answer since its closest North American relative is always undomesticated, unlike the horse.
So I started asking around, when you read and see all the human labors and efforts that could have been aided and assisted by a strong animal - why not the zebra?
So I didn’t get very far with human inquiry, so I delved into that all-knowing source of information - Google.
Turns out, the zebra is too jumpy, too ornery, too high strung, too ‘mean’, too stuck in its ways to domesticate. After living its entire history in the African Savanah where quick predators lie in the tall grass, the zebra’s fight or flight instinct is so fine tuned, is tightly wound, that a few impatient attempts from the English colonists had no chance to overcome and supersede the hair-trigger response of a zebra to stress.
“To be domesticated, animals must meet certain criteria. For example, they must have a good disposition and should not panic under pressure. Zebras' unpredictable nature and tendency to attack preclude them from being good candidates for domestication.” (Google result).
From Science Alert -
All equids are herbivorous prey species with a well-developed "flight or fight" response. But to survive in an environment where there is an abundance of large predators including lions, cheetahs and hyenas, the zebra evolved into a particularly alert, responsive animal that flees in the face of danger but also possesses a powerful response if captured.
The kick of a zebra can break a lion’s jaw. They can be savage biters and possess a 'ducking' reflex that helps them avoid being caught by lasso. Familiarity with human hunter-gatherers may also have fostered a strong avoidance response in the zebra.
All of this means that zebra are not really "people friendly" and as a species they do not fit the criteria for domestication.
According to the English explorer and polymath Francis Galton (a relative of Charles Darwin), these requirements include displaying a desire for comfort, being easy to tend, being useful and showing a fondness for man.
Galton uses the zebra as an example of an unmanageable species, stating that the Dutch Boers repeatedly tried to break zebra to harness. Although they had some success, the wild, mulish nature of the animals would frequently break out and thwart their efforts.
Although it appears possible to tame individual zebra, this species was not a good candidate for domestication. In addition to the intractable nature of the zebra and its strong survival instinct, the fact that this species is 'lion fodder' may also have made them appear less attractive 'partners' to early humans."
So, the moral of the story is some things just can't be tamed - I could have told anyone who was listening that was the case from my hiring attempts over the last 20 years.