The images of this unique zebra were taken at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
Zebras are known for their unique black and white striped coat. At some point in your life, I'm sure you have also wondered whether they are black with white stripes or white with black stripes. As if this confusion wasn't enough, the picture of a usual-looking zebra foal took the internet by storm in 2019, and guess what, it didn't have any stripes! This particular foal was all kinds of unique as it had polka dots all over his body, making him look like a cute deer.
The image of this rare zebra was taken by photographers and tour guides Rahul Sachdev and Antony Tiran at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Initially, Tiran thought that the zebra had been painted/marked for migration purposes. However, he soon realized that the polka dots were the newborn zebra's actual coat.
Sachdev and Tiran told Daily Nation that this adorable foal is apparently known as "blacker" zebra. A wildlife specialist from the Matira Bush Camp, Parmale Lemein told Daily Nation that this was the first time they had seen a polka dot zebra at the Mara Reserve. "At first glance, he looked like a different species altogether," said photographer Frank Liu, who also clicked a few pictures of the foal, according to National Geographic.
When the picture of this polka-dotted zebra hit social media, people were left in awe. Facebook user Joy Mugecha wrote: For real this zebra is a slay...soo unique... User Kelly Browne expressed: Another one of God's beautiful Creatures. While Olamerikai Seno shared: Beautiful, truly an eighth wonder of the world ecosystem.
Although having such a coat is rare for zebras, there is a perfectly good explanation. The unusual patterns may be a result of melanism in the foal. Melanism, the opposite of albinism, is a condition where dark-colored pigmentation develops on the fur of the animal instead of a lighter one. Unfortunately, no other zebra with the same condition has survived for more than six months after birth, at least not in African parks. "There are a variety of mutations that can disturb the process of melanin synthesis, and in all of those disorders, the melanocytes are believed to be normally distributed, but the melanin they make is abnormal," explained Greg Barsh, a geneticist at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, via an email.
A unique spotted zebra foal was first seen on the Maasai Mara Reserve Kenya, by a Maasai guide on the weekend. Named Tira, this zebra will be a star! A very unusual and completely beautiful genetic mutation!— Xpose Trophy Hunting (@XposeTrophyHunt) September 16, 2019
Photo credits: frankliuphotography photo 2&3
RS Photography: photos 1&4 pic.twitter.com/yma71791kH
Even if the foal survives, it has high chances of being targeted due to its fur that stands out from the rest. Michael Fitt, who previously worked in Wilderness Safari's Botswana Environmental Department, shared, "It is believed that the mare is carrying a recessive gene and if this is true, it means that the herd itself is a successful one, even though the foals are not surviving to adulthood. This zebra foal is most likely a genetic morph due to an excess of melanin, which results in its coat's dark pigment. This abnormality doesn’t occur often, and the last foal born with this condition was killed by hyaenas within a few months. Unfortunately, zebras that stand out from the others too much do become a target. If the foal makes it to adulthood it will be interesting to observe any unusual behavioral interactions that may come about as a result of his condition."
More than being aesthetically pleasing, the black and white stripes on zebras have a very important purpose. Per scientists, the stripes help the animal stay cooler in the excessively hot climate during summers in Africa. It also helps zebras camouflage or blend in with their surroundings in order to hide from potential predators. There are some scientists who believe that these stripes help them avoid being bitten by flies that are known to transmit diseases. As for the debate whether zebras are black or white, a few experts believe that the animal is most likely black with white stripes and not the other way around.