A photographer at a camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve was in for a surprise when he came across an incredibly rare, “blacker” newly born Zebra.
Mr Antony Tira – A renowned tour guide-cum photographer – at Matira bush camp, spotted and photographed the black dotted foal and posted it on the camp’s Facebook page attracting a lot of social media attention.
“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 told the Nation.
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.
The discovery caused stampede in the 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 that has remained the top story in the Mara for the last three days.
The tourists have been taking extra clips of this rare holiday experience.
Hundreds of tour vans surrounded the already scared foal, and, according to Mr Felix Migoya the Mara tour guides and drivers association secretary, it created “an additional wonder” for international tourists who are in the reserve to 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.
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.
But he was quick to point out that none of the Zebras with such condition in other parks in Africa, according to research, has survived for more than six months after birth.
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.
Zebras stripes, according to researchers, work to ward off hordes of biting flies that the animals come in contact with on a daily basis and without the protection, such Zebras may be vulnerable.
Animals with albinism have been documented in a variety of other species including giraffes, penguins, orangutans and mice.
A few years ago at the Serengeti a zebra with blonde, rather than black stripes, was spotted and photographed. It was said to have much less melanin than typical zebras.
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.
Interestingly, the blonde male zebras at this private reserve behave like “stallions with harems”, according to Ren Larison, a biologist at the University of California.
However, while mating is not an issue for zebras with partial albinism, they could face other challenges.
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.