Tira the zebra foal

Rare Zebra Foal With Polka Dots Spotted In Kenya

Tira the zebra foal

In 2019 a zebra foal with a dark coat and white polka dots has been spotted in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Zebra stripes are as unique as fingerprints, but Tira’s odd coloration could be the first recorded observation in the Masai Mara. Similar foals have been seen in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Tira and these other foals have a condition called pseudomelanism, a rare genetic mutation..

A newborn zebra foal with bizarre polka-dot markings has recently been photographed in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This is the first time that this unusual pattern has ever been seen amongst zebras in the Maasai Mara.

This rare black zebra foal was first spotted and photographed early one fine September morning near the Mara River by Antony Tira, a respected Maasai tour guide and photographer at the Matira Bush Camp in the Reserve.

“At first, I thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of [researching] migration,” Mr. Tira told the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper. “I was confused when I first saw it.”

After carefully studying the foal, Mr. Tira realized he was looking at a newborn zebra with a pigment disorder.

He photographed the peculiarly marked zebra foal and posted the images to the Matira Bush Camp’s Facebook page. According to the Daily Nation, the photographs generated a lot of attention and unleashed a human “stampede” in the reserve. Everyone wanted to see this foal. Tour guides were quickly enlisted to take eager tourists and photographers to the lookout area where the newborn zebra and his mother were located.

The following morning, and before the news got out in a big way, several more people saw this rare zebra foal.

“I was out looking for rhinos to photograph early that morning”, said Frank Liu, a professional photographer who provided the pictures of this foal for this piece. “We spent a couple hours [searching] around sunrise and failed. That’s when we stumbled upon this mutated zebra that was discovered just the day before.”

Mr. Liu’s reaction was similar to Mr. Tira’s the previous morning.

“At first glance, he looked like a different species altogether,” Mr. Liu said in email. Although he’d never seen such a strangely marked zebra before, Mr. Liu quickly realized Tira’s striking appearance is the result of a pigment disorder.

This rare zebra foal was given the name, “Tira”.

“The name ‘Tira’ was coined by the local Maasai guide who first found him on Sep 13,” Mr. Liu explained in email. “There is a general rule within the park; whoever finds an animal of significance gets to name it. Tira was the surname of the guide who found him.”

This rare black zebra is probably not “pseudo-melanistic”.

Because this zebra foal has some white spots and a few small, incomplete white stripes, it is not completely black, so its distinctive coat pattern has been described in the media as “pseudo-melanistic”. (Keep in mind that zebra foals are chocolate brown with white stripes when they’re born and the brown darkens to black as the animal matures).

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Courtesy: GrrlScientist at Forbes.com

PREVIOUSLY IN VUMBURA BOTSWANA IN 2014 (more stripes than polka dots)

Earlier this month Michael Fitt came across a newborn zebra in the north-western area of the Okavango Delta, in Vumbura Concession. The zebra has a rather amazing dark colour due to a small genetic abnormality linked to the amount of melanin affecting the pigmentation of the fur.

There have been at least three other dark zebras born like this in the area however none of them have reached more than 6 months old with the last foal born of this kind facing its demise to hyenas within a few months.

Unfortunately if you stand out from the crowd you are a target. Due to other abnormalities of this nature some scientist’s claim that zebra’s 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.

Courtesey: Africa Geographic - May 2014

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