Kenya's Masai Mara is one of the best places in the world for wildlife watching. Photographer and safari guide Paul Goldstein caught a truly prized specimen on film, after tracking it down for two years. This elusive animal is a zebra who has an unusual pattern of stripes and spots.
This elusive and ornery individual has an unusual coat pattern.
Goldstein had trouble getting within range of the animal to snap his pictures. The spotted zebra is shy, "extremely bad tempered" and aggressive towards other zebras. According to Goldstein, it seems to have been ostracized by the other zebras, presumably because of its non-standard coat pattern.
The mystery zebra has an unusually short mane which is solid black. It is much darker than other zebras overall. And it has spots along its back in place of the normal stripes, as well as different patterning on its legs.
The stripes of a zebra are like fingerprints, no two animals are alike. And there is some good evidence that zebras use these patterns to identify individuals in their herd. Was this animal banished from the herd because of its odd stripes? Or did it leave the herd on its own, due to its bad temper?
The spotted zebra is certainly much more vulnerable to attack when on its own. Zebras are a herding species, and a lone zebra is an easy target. Goldstein reports that the animal is covered in scars.
The spotted zebra's body looks different from normal zebras, as well, which may provide a clue as to how it came to be. It has a more donkey-like appearance overall. Zebras are known to hybridize with other equines quite readily. These hybrids all fall under the term of "zebroid," although they may be called a zorse, zonkey, or zebrule depending on who the other parent is.
It was long thought that zebras were white with black stripes, due to the large amount of white on their bellies. However, embryological evidence in recent years has overturned that belief. It turns out that zebras are black with white stripes.
In addition to providing camouflage against color-blind predators like lions, and dazzling pursuers when they are all fleeing in a herd, the stripes of a zebra may provide fly protection. A team of researchers set out three horse-shaped plywood cutouts: one white, one black, and one zebra striped. They found that tsetse flies and horse flies flocked to the black and white cut-outs, but completely ignored the striped one.