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Five Zebras Still on the Lam in Maryland After Escape

Escaped zebras
A group of five zebras are now living in the suburbs of Washington D.C. after escaping the private farm where they used to live. Credit: Duvignau Alain /CC0

Everyone loves zebras; the beautiful horselike denizens of Africa that have jaunty black and white stripes are a perennial favorite in wildlife parks around the world and of course with those who are fortunate enough to go on an African safari.

The people of the state of Maryland, just outside Washington D.C., have really been in for a treat the past month, getting furtive glimpses of five of the spectacularly striped animals as they chomped on grass in the suburbs after their escape from a private farm.

The hard-to-miss animals have been stubbornly difficult to capture, however, and they are continuing to elude those who would like them to return to the farm where they used to live with 32 of their friends in a “zeal” — and yes, that’s the name for a herd of zebras.

Their Maryland Odyssey began on August 31, when they escaped from the private farm where they used to live in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, according to a report from the New York Times.

Rodney Taylor, the chief of Prince George’s County’s Animal Services Division, told the Times “When I first heard about it I was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Zebras?’” He had never before been tasked with trying to capture the quick-as-lightning horse-like animals, who are sometimes known to outrun predators such as lions.

Over the long stretch, zebras can run at 65km/h (40 mph) while lions can have bursts of up to 50 miles per hour for short periods — but they cannot sustain this speed for a long stretch of time.

Clearly, Taylor and the rest of his wildlife colleagues have their work cut out for them.

Local residents have been able to capture fleeting glimpses of the zebras, but that’s about it. Since the animals evolved to have enormous bursts of speed at a moment’s notice, wildlife officials do not have the advantage here.

Since they have highly-tuned flight instincts, animal control experts caution that the best way to eventually catch these striking creatures is to trick them into entering a corral with grain that they enjoy eating. So far though, this hasn’t been enough of a draw.

Naturally, this being 2021, Maryland residents have been quick to share their black and white glimpses of the animals on social media. Evenings for local people there now often include zebra”hunts” by car.

According to the Washington Post, the city’s delegate to the US Congress even released a statement jokingly denying responsibility for helping the zebras escape their farm.

Surprisingly, it is not illegal for individuals to own these horse-like animals, as long as one obtains a permit from the United States Department of Agriculture.

And surely the verdant, leafy Maryland suburbs are a great place to hang out for them, with nearly unlimited grass, flowers and leaves for the zebras to chomp on all day long.

But Winter is coming soon, leaving some to worry about the animals’ ability to survive the cold, rainy months in the mid-Atlantic state, which has a climate much like that of southern England.

Rachel Kurzius from the news website DCist says that the zebras likely will do just fine, however, since some of their species in Africa are known to live on the high slopes of Mount Kenya.

Being intelligent mammals, they also have been known to migrate to warmer climates when the temperature drops as well.

Zoologist David Rubenstein of Princeton University told Kurzius “As with most equids, they have a winter coat. It’ll thicken and keep them warm,” adding “They have a high metabolism, and as long as they have enough food, that’ll serve as fuel and generate heat to keep them warm.”

Since Maryland has no natural predators that might pose a threat to the zebras, they likely will be just hunky dory as long as they are not disturbed by people. Wildlife expert Taylor explains that they most likely would not present any danger to anyone who happens to come across them unawares.

“They’re not going to chase you down,” Taylor assured the public in the Post. “But they are zebras, so they’re not handled by people a lot, so to defend themselves they could bite.”

Let’s hope Marylanders get a few more sightings of them in the future and that the Zebra Five continue to roam wild and free in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

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