A tour guide and photographer at Matira Bush camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve was in for a surprise when he came across an incredibly rare, “blacker” newly born Zebra. The newborn foal was spotted with its mother while grazing in the Mara. The photos went viral on social media after Mr Antony Tira posted it on the camp’s Facebook page.
“At first I thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of migration. I was confused when I first saw it,” Mr Tira said while speaking to Nation, a local daily.
He said on closer examination, he realised that what he was seeing was actually a zebra with melanin disorder. It was hardly a week old, it appeared weak and very different from the others for it has not stripes and was stuck close to a female adult zebra, probably its mother.
A melanistic zebra is one whose stripes haven’t developed correctly, leaving its coat patched black with white stripes and spots.
Although there are many theories for why zebras have stripes, one theory from research by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) suggests that the stripes help regulate the zebra’s temperature. And that ‘the amount and intensity of striping can be best predicted by the temperature of the environment in which zebras live.’
According to a wildlife specialist at Matira Camp Parmale Lemein, there has never been any recorded case in the Mara of such a rare zebra. Sadly Zebras with such condition in other parks in Africa, according to research, have not survived for more than six months after birth.
This is not the first time this abnormality is witnessed in Africa.
On February 17, Near a watering hole in a quiet valley in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, photographer Sergio Pitamitz spotted something unusual in the middle of migrating Zebra herd: A pop of white.
“At first I thought it was a zebra that had rolled in the dust,” says Pitamitz when speaking to the National Geographic. But as he watched the animal wade into the water and start drinking, he noticed that the “dust” wasn’t washing off. Excitedly, he snapped away.
The Zebra had partial albinism partial-albinism. This means that the zebra has much less melanin than typical zebras, resulting in blonde rather than black stripes.
Until now, very few blonde zebras have been seen in the wild, although there are a few dozen living on a private reserve in Mount Kenya National Park.
The discovery of the melanistic Zebra caused a stampede in the Mara reserve with tour drivers and photographers, hurriedly taking tourists to the lookout area in the game reserve near the Mara River for the rare find. Many international tourists are in the reserve for the last moments of the wildebeest migration.
The zebra has a rather amazing dark colour due to a genetic abnormality linked to the amount of melanin, affecting the pigmentation of the fur.
Due to other abnormalities of this nature, some scientists claim that zebra stripes are formed from the inhibition of melanin and that the “default” colour of a zebra is black. In other words, a zebra is black with white stripes.
A recent study suggested that zebras evolved black and white stripes to ward off biting flies, and without this colouring, blonde zebras could be susceptible.