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Rare polka-dot zebra foal spotted in Kenya

Ben Cost, September 19, 2019 6:45PM New York Post

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The rare spotted zebra foal. Picture: Maasai Mara National Reserve/Elegant Holiday Tours & Travel/Facebook media_cameraThe rare spotted zebra foal. Picture: Maasai Mara National Reserve/Elegant Holiday Tours & Travel/Facebook


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A rare polka-dot zebra foal has been spotted at Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and is said to be a first for the park.

The freckled foal was photographed by tour guide and photographer Rahul Sachdev.

Fellow photographer and tour guide Anthony Tira also saw the foal, which was thought to be about a week old.

“At first I thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of migration. I was confused,” he said.

When he had a closer look, he realised the newborn had a rare skin pigment condition called melanism or pseudomelanism. This means there’s more melanin* than there would normally be, which results in dark colouration. It’s the opposite of albinism, which is caused by low levels of melanin.

Sachdev has since named the foal “Tira” after his Maasai guide. It is not known if the foal is male or female.

Rare spotted zebra spotted by wildlife photographer

Parmale Lemein, a wildlife specialist at Matira Camp, said the foal is the first of its kind in the Mara. Similar zebra foals have been seen in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, according to National Geographic.

For some animals, having darker than usual colouring may be an advantage. For instance, it could help those who are predators hunt at night.

Unfortunately, life for a zebra foal with melanism or pseudomelanism may not be easy. Zebras are not predators but herbivores*, so there is no hunting advantage and it could, instead, make them stand out from the herd from a predator’s point of view.

media_cameraRegular-looking zebra foals won’t stand out from the herd as much as the spotted foal. This one was born at Monarto Zoo, NSW, August. Picture: Geoff Brooks

Also, zebras’ stripes help deter* flies, so Tira may have more flies land on it than on other zebras in the herd.

Zebras with this condition in all the other African preserves have died within about six months, Lemein said.

This article was first published in the New York Post and is reproduced here with permission.

media_cameraStripes on zebras deter flies. These three live at Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, France. Picture: AFP


  • melanin: pigment that colours hair, skin and eyes
  • herbivores: eats plants
  • deter: put off


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  1. Where in Africa is the Maasai Mara National Reserve?
  2. What is melanin? What is it called when an animal hasn’t enough melanin?
  3. Is the foal male or female and what has it been named?
  4. When could being darker be an advantage? When could it be a disadvantage?
  5. What purpose do zebra stripes serve?


1. Caption the photograph
If you were to see a photograph of this zebra without knowing anything more about it you would probably be unsure of what type of animal it was.

Imagine that a photograph of Tira was to be included in a children’s animal book. Write the caption to go with this photo explaining what animal it is, where it was found, why it is unique and what are some of the problems it might face. Ensure that your caption reads like a paragraph.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
‘Tira, the Spotted Zebra’ — This sounds like a great title for a narrative story.

Write a short story about Tira. Your story could be about acceptance or being different or you could come up with another theme that relates to a spotted zebra.

Make sure your story has an interesting beginning, a complication or problem that needs to be solved, a resolution and a conclusion (ending).

When you have finished your first draft, revise and edit your story before publishing and illustrating it for others to read.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity plus time to edit and publish.
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you could be any animal, what would you choose to be? Why?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in animals