Modern Zebras and Ancient Horses

Aug 2016
872
USA
#1
I've seen some evidence that zebras could be used to pull a carriage. If a carriage, why not a chariot?

I've read that przwalski's horse is as close as we have to a true wild horse. Many of its traits seem similar.

So what kept Zebras from being slowly bred into docility and ability to carry a rider like ancient horses?
 
Jan 2016
571
United States, MO
#2
I've seen some evidence that zebras could be used to pull a carriage. If a carriage, why not a chariot?

I've read that przwalski's horse is as close as we have to a true wild horse. Many of its traits seem similar.

So what kept Zebras from being slowly bred into docility and ability to carry a rider like ancient horses?
I am pretty sure that this is touched upon in Guns, germs, and steel. If I remember correctly, zebras for one are more aggresive than horses. Just look at what they have to defend themselves against as compared to wild horses. Also, their spines are not as sturdy as horses when being pressed down on from above. So i am not sure they are a good pack animal either, but they may be able to pull a wagon. Im just not sure it has been tried. And the problem with wagons in Africa is that the natural environment and terrain is very rugged. You can’t exactly take a wagon through a jungle. The savvana might be more teneble, but it would probaly have been very difficult to build and maintain roads their in premodern times due to the wildlife.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#3
That's the way I read it too; they can pull a wagon because the strain is then put on the chest; not the spine.



Do they mate in captivity, or are the babies separated at birth?
 
Mar 2012
2,344
#5
I am pretty sure that this is touched upon in Guns, germs, and steel. If I remember correctly, zebras for one are more aggresive than horses. Just look at what they have to defend themselves against as compared to wild horses. Also, their spines are not as sturdy as horses when being pressed down on from above. So i am not sure they are a good pack animal either, but they may be able to pull a wagon. Im just not sure it has been tried. And the problem with wagons in Africa is that the natural environment and terrain is very rugged. You can’t exactly take a wagon through a jungle. The savvana might be more teneble, but it would probaly have been very difficult to build and maintain roads their in premodern times due to the wildlife.
The flaw in this argument is that, as OP noted, they would become more docil over time.Jared Diamond has no idea how agressive the original horses are, or how timid the Zebras would be has they been under thousands of years of domestication. In fact, I understand that there is an extinct sub-species which was more easily trainable.

I believe zebras have been bred in zoos, and taming+breeding=dometication, so it probably could have been done. The issue is maybe that it was not worth doing. Empires such as the Mali that used horses found the susceptible to the tetsi fly and diseases, so maybe the cost would have been greater than the benefit.
 
Aug 2016
872
USA
#6
The flaw in this argument is that, as OP noted, they would become more docil over time.Jared Diamond has no idea how agressive the original horses are, or how timid the Zebras would be has they been under thousands of years of domestication. In fact, I understand that there is an extinct sub-species which was more easily trainable.

I believe zebras have been bred in zoos, and taming+breeding=dometication, so it probably could have been done. The issue is maybe that it was not worth doing. Empires such as the Mali that used horses found the susceptible to the tetsi fly and diseases, so maybe the cost would have been greater than the benefit.
Well, I am assuming zebras wouldn't be too bothered by tetsi flies.

Could the lack of domestication be due to the lack of an early wheel?

I believe the wheel was supposedly invented somewhere in Northern Eurasia.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,472
#7
I've seen some evidence that zebras could be used to pull a carriage. If a carriage, why not a chariot?

I've read that przwalski's horse is as close as we have to a true wild horse. Many of its traits seem similar.

So what kept Zebras from being slowly bred into docility and ability to carry a rider like ancient horses?
In short, horses got there first. There was no need to domesticate zebra once the horse had been domesticated.

It's similar to why we don't have pets derived from domesticated foxes. Domesticated wolves, in the form of our dogs, got there first. So no one ever made a serious attempt at domesticating foxes until Russian scientists had a go at it in the 20th Century.

If horses didn't exist eventually humans likely would have domesticated zebra to fill the same niche that horses filled historically.

Wild zebra have traits that make them unsuitable for many of the tasks horses are used for, but that's precisely because they are wild animals that haven't been selectively bred for those tasks. The first horses to be captured by man would have been unsuitable for many of the same tasks (like carrying a human rider, for instance) for the same reasons.

All modern wild horses with the exception of the Przewalski's horse are descended from domesticated stock that went feral, so arguments that horses are inherently better suited to domestication based on the "tameness" of American mustangs or Australian brumbies is ultimately a weak one.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2016
385
Ohio
#10
All modern wild horses with the exception of the Przewalski's horse are descended from domesticated stock that went feral,
Does this mean that never once in the history of man has a przewalskis horse been domesticated?

Or that one could of been, but it was not put into the wild with the others in order to breed the lineage into one of a feral state?