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Yes, uniquely marked zebra from Maasai Mara, Kenya

An eye-catching graphic, shared on Facebook, shows an oddly marked zebra foal apparently spotted by a photographer in Kenya.

“Rare Zebra foal with polka-dot markings is seen in Maasai Mara by Photographer Antony Tira,” it reads. The Maasai Mara is a wildlife reserve in southwestern Kenya, bordering Tanzania. 

Instead of the usual black and white stripes, this young zebra has white spots and shorter stripes on most of its body, while its back is a solid black. 

The graphic was flagged as potentially false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. So we checked if this unique zebra is found in the Maasai Mara.


Darker skin because of melanin

The Daily Nation, an independent newspaper in Kenya, reported on the polka-dotted baby zebra in September 2019.

The news agency AFP also posted a video of the zebra on Twitter. 

According to the Daily Nation, Antony Tira, a “renowned tour guide-cum photographer”, did first spot and photograph the unusual foal, as the graphic claims.

“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,” Tira told the Daily Nation.

He said he soon realised that the young zebra had a melanin disorder. 

Brenda Larison, a biologist studying the evolution of zebra stripes at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the US, told National Geographic that foals like this “have a condition called pseudomelanism, a rare genetic mutation in which animals display some sort of abnormality in their stripe pattern”.

Melanin is the dark pigment found in skin, hair, feathers, scales, eyes, and some internal membranes of animals. It is why people have different skin tones, freckles and moles. 

And it’s why this zebra foal looks different to the others on the Maasai Mara.Taryn Willows


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