Instagram | @hassaneini

Adorably Rare Baby Zebra Was Born With Polka Dots Instead Of Stripes

When you think about zebras, I'm sure one big question comes to mind: are they black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

We can argue our opinion on this one all the live-long-day, but I actually think there's a more important question that we should consider, and prepare yourselves because it's a bit more existential: is a zebra still a zebra if it doesn't have any stripes at all?

Well, is it?

A zebra (?) of this exact nature was recently spotted in Kenya, and it's quickly taking over the internet.

YouTube | A.M Hassanein

According to Daily Nation, a photographer at Maasai Mara Game Reserve snapped the pic of this ultra rare foal, which is apparently known as a "blacker" zebra, and people are freaking out. Not just because it's missing its iconic stripes, but because it's just so adorable.

This is actually the first time a so-called "blacker" zebra has been spotted at the reserve.

YouTube | A.M Hassanein

Photographer Antony Tira first thought he was snapping pics of a zebra that had been captured, then painted or marked for migration purposes. But then he realized what he had come across was actually a newborn zebra with a melanin disorder.

Melanism is the exact opposite of albinism, meaning dark-colored pigmentation develops in the fur instead of light.

As it turns out, a zebra's sassy stripes are for more than just aesthetic purposes.

Unsplash | Ron Dauphin

Some scientists have proposed that those thick lines in their fur actually help these animals stay cool while grazing in the midday African heat.

Zebras in particular are in need of these temperature-regulating stripes because they digest food much less efficiently than other animals in Africa.

Unsplash | Karim MANJRA

So, they need to spend more time outside in the heat, under that sweltering sun, eating more food.

"Zebra have a need to keep foraging throughout the day, which keeps them out in the open more of the time than other animals," researcher Ren Larison told Live Science. "An additional cooling mechnanism could be very useful under these circumstances."

Other researchers have hypothesized different purposes of a zebra's eye-catching fur.

Unsplash | sutirta budiman

These include suggestions that the stripes help zebras camoflauge themselves to escape predators, or that they keep disease-carrying flies at bay to avoid being bitten.

However, we really don't have any one certain answer.

Tira's photo of the sweet zebra was posted to the reserve's Facebook page, and people just can't get enough.

Facebook | Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association

The photo has racked up over 900 reactions from intrigued users, as well as hundreds of comments about how beautiful this rare creature is.

"The magic of nature," one person remarked, while another added, "Another beautiful animal to be appreciated."

Then there were those speculating on just how this incredible mutated zebra came to be, and its mother's fidelity really came into question.

One person proposed it's the result of some alone time with an antelope, while another thinks this cutie is actually the product of a zebra and a wildebeest, resulting in what they call a "Zebeest."

Other hypotheses include cross-breeding with a hyena, a leopard, or perhaps even a tapir.

Now for some not-so-happy news about this sweet little foal.

Instagram | @hassaneini

According to a wildlife specialist at Matira camp Parmale Lemein, no other zebras with the same condition in other African parks have survived for more than six months after birth.

It's estimated that this particular zebra is around a week old, so it's still rather young.

One professional safari photographer believes dark-colored zebras may be the result of a recessive gene.

Safari Footprints | Matthew Copham

" [...] if this is true, it means that the herd itself is a successful one, even though the foals are not surviving to adulthood," Matthew Copham told Wilderness Safari.

He added, "Unfortunately, zebras which stand out from the others too much do become a target."

Copham added that it would be interesting to see a dark-colored zebra reach maturity to observe its behavioral interactions.

Personally, I think I speak for everyone when I say I hope this adorable little creature beats the odds stacked against it and becomes a beautiful, polka-dotted adult zebra — the first of its kind.

h/t: Daily Nation, YouTube | A.M Hassanein

Filed Under: