Why People Have Never Been Able To Domesticate Zebras

In the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., an exotic new resident is wreaking havoc across the board. This is Dan the Zebra — star of a breeding program that seeks to domesticate the horse-like creatures of the African savanna. But thanks to his unruly behavior, the project stalls before it can even begin. And quite a few people are left with cuts and bruises, too.

Useful creatures

In a world with colonialism on its mind, the idea of domesticating the zebra was certainly an appealing one. Horses struggled to survive in the harsh conditions of Africa, you see, limiting the spread of western civilization across the plains. But what if they could be replaced by an animal that was equipped to handle all the challenges of its native terrain?

Why aren’t they as commonplace as horses? 

The idea of domesticating zebras has come up several times throughout the history of mankind, in fact. But you’re unlikely to see any of the striped equines pulling a carriage or being ridden through traffic today. So what happened to Dan and his kin — and why aren’t they as commonplace as horses today? 

A history of domestication

Our complicated relationship with domesticated animals began when early humans first tamed the wild wolves which shared their habitat, kickstarting the evolution of dogs. Although scientists cannot agree exactly when this happened, we know that man’s best friend has been with us for at least 14,000 years.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that our initial interactions with domestic animals occurred out of a need for food. But today, many experts believe that the first dogs were kept by hunter-gatherer humans simply as companions and pets. In fact, it would be another 3,000 years before early societies began keeping animals for their meat.