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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Zebras in our backyards

Published 08/26/10
By Jessica Stout, grassroots coordinator

I nearly choked on my morning coffee a few Sundays ago when I turned on the local news to see footage of a zebra running down a street not very far from my house. As I quickly turned up the volume on my TV, I learned that two zebras had escaped from their private owners’ property and ran down the streets of Carmichael, being chased by police and filmed by dozens of onlookers.

Perhaps even more disturbing were the comments made by the owners, David and Michael Mastagni, that — the Sacramento Bee reported — “the zebras are used at rodeos and to breed with horses to create an animal that is fun to ride.” As it turns out, the family business is that of breeding, among other animals, zebras.

While many may not think of zebras as exotic animals because they seem similar to horses, they resemble horses very little.

The fact that the owners of the zebras involved in the Sacramento escape admit they cross-breed them with horses is no coincidence. Zebras are generally hard to handle, are unpredictable (as demonstrated in this most recent example) and, like other exotic animals, do best in the wild — their natural habitat.

To better understand this situation, I turned to good friend and longtime animal advocate/rescuer Marie for her take on the situation. She herself has a zebra who is a rescue. While Marie also has several horses, taking care of a zebra has been a whole different experience for her. This is what Marie had to say:

“The mistake most people make is thinking that a zebra is a horse with stripes. While some individuals have had success training bottle-raised babies, and a few individual zebras have proven to be quite trainable, people need to remember that this is the exception — not the rule. In many cases, zebra foals are used in petting zoos or ‘education’ programs, but most become unmanageable once they get older. While some zebras appear ‘trained,’ the reality is that their flight reflex is so strong that if the animal were to become truly frightened or panicked, there would be no holding onto him if he decided to get away. Zebras can also, if frightened enough, jump and go through fences that would quite adequately contain a horse.

“In addition, most zebras do not make affectionate pets, as they kick and bite with frequency. Remember — a zebra's primary job is to outrun the lion and, failing that, kick to deliver maximum injury (lions have had their jaws broken by zebras in the wild). Once many zebra owners realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, the zebra is dumped on the first willing taker — never a good outcome for the zebra, particularly in this economy.

“As we’ve seen, a panicked zebra in traffic can wreak havoc. Had a person been badly injured in the Carmichael incident, the zebras’ owner would have been on the hook. This is an animal best left in the wild. It’s no coincidence that zebras are not used as riding animals in Africa!”

It is a sad situation for those zebras who spent what I am sure were several terrifying hours on the lam. We were all lucky in that they did not do any serious damage to themselves, people or property, but it could very easily have gone the other way. The Aug. 14 incident was yet another example of why wild animals belong in the wild.

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