No matter how long you’ve been on this Earth, and all the wonderful things you’ve experienced in life so far, one thing will always be true: Nature will never cease to be amazing. This is backed up with footage of a one-of-a-kind zebra foal.
A zebra’s stripes are arguably its most distinctive characteristic — but those debating about whether zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes may now have to entirely rethink their definition of the animal.
Antony Tira, a safari guide, first spotted this unusual zebra foal in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The guide named the foal “Tira,” after his own surname since he was the first one to discover this unique creature.
Tira the foal is the only one of his kind in the Masai Mara Reserve. He is mostly brown, with white spot markings., and has a short hairless tail, unlike a normal zebra.
Tira has a rare condition called pseudomelanism. This rare genetic mutation appears in animals causing them to display some sort of abnormality in their stripe pattern, explained Ren Larison, a biologist studying the changes in zebra stripes at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The baby zebra’s fur makes it look not only like it has a unique polka-dot pattern — it almost looks as though its colors are inverted compared with the other zebras.
Unlike the similarly rare genetic mutation called albinism, which is caused by a lack of pigmentation, pseudomelanism occurs because of excess pigmentation in the skin and fur which make it appear melanistic.
It’s not the first time unusually patterned zebras have appeared in the wild; a “blonde” zebra was spotted earlier this year in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park
While Tira is quite a sight to behold, his extremely rare condition can negatively affect his life. Without stripes, Tira may be at risk of overheating, being singled out by predators, and biting flies, which researchers theorized are kept at bay by zebra’s stripes.
The biting flies can carry diseases like equine influenza, which can be lethal for the young foal. However, if Tira manages to survive these hurdles and live until adulthood, there’s no reason to believe he won’t fit into the herd.
Although Tira is the first-ever recorded case of pseudomelanism in the Masai Mara, years ago a similar case was reported in the north-western area of the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately, these foals didn’t survive much longer than six months of age, the last one of its kind ended up hunted and killed by hyenas.
“Being obviously different from other members of the herd will likely make this foal stand out and make it an easier target for predators,” she said. “This effect may be the main reason why such variants are so rare.”