Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve Is Home To An Adorable Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal

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Rare zebra foal in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve has polka dots instead of stripes (Credit: Frank Liu Photography)

The Masai Mara Reserve is one of Kenya's most popular tourist attractions. Every year, thousands of people flock to the national park to glimpse of a variety of wild animals, such as lions and cheetahs, or to witness the majestic annual migration of over 1.5 million wildebeests to and from neighboring Tanzania. However, this September's human "stampede" is due to an unexpected animal — a zebra foal with polka dots!

Anthony Tira, a local tour guide and photographer, was the first to notice the zebra's unusual pattern in mid-September. “At first I thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of migration,” he told George Sayagie of the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper. “I was confused when I first saw it.”

The foal's gorgeous coloring and markings is due to a genetic condition called pseudomelanism (Credit: Frank Liu Photography)

Hong Kong-based professional photographer Frank Liu had a similar reaction when he saw the animal a few days later. “At first glance, he looked like a different species altogether,” Liu told Forbes in an email. Upon closer examination, both Tira and Liu realized that the foal's stunning polka dots were probably the result of a pigment mutation.

Ren Larison, a biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, believes the foal, nicknamed Tira, has a genetic condition known as “pseudomelanism." The expert says that the dark-skinned zebras obtain their stripes from specialized skin cells called melanocytes, which transfer melanin into some of their hairs. The parts that obtain the melanin appear black, while those that don't, look white. On rare occasions, however, the melanin transfers in a pattern that is different from the familiar stripes associated with zebras.

Zebras with unusual coloring ate easy targets for predators (Credit: Frank Liu Photography)

Though Tira is Masai Mara's first polka-dotted zebra, it is not the only one of its kind. A similar foal was caught on camera by a photographer at Botswana's Okavango Delta in 2014. Experts, who have also noticed other variants, including a "golden" zebra in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park in February 2019, believe the skin mutations may be more common than we realize. However, they are rarely seen because most abnormally patterned or colored zebras rarely survive to adulthood. Their striking looks, which do not blend in with the herd, make them easy targets for hungry lions or hyenas. Hopefully, little Tira, who is being closely monitored by the park's officials, will be able to buck the trend and delight visitors for many years.

Resources: Natgeo.com, Smithsonianmag.com,Forbes.com


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643 Comments
  • nightmare2
    nightmare2Friday, February 19, 2021 at 5:02 am
    Woo! Animals rock!
    • warriorcatskid
      warriorcatskidTuesday, January 26, 2021 at 12:56 pm
      That is so cute!!!!!!! I want one!
      • skatexstreet610
        skatexstreet610Friday, February 26, 2021 at 10:35 am
        That would be awesome!
      • osaka-chan23
        osaka-chan23Friday, January 22, 2021 at 9:30 am
        Aww It's soo cute and unique! I love her!
        • kittylover111
          kittylover111Friday, January 22, 2021 at 6:35 am
          never seen it, still it's kinda cute
          • kittiesmama
            kittiesmamaThursday, January 21, 2021 at 7:28 am
            Thats.... Um odd but super cute and uniqe
            • emshappyplanet
              emshappyplanetSunday, January 10, 2021 at 5:35 pm
              That’s unexpected yet really, really cool.
              • saphege_ems
                saphege_emsThursday, January 7, 2021 at 10:39 am
                I KNEW IT WAS WHITE ON BLACK! THE MYSTERY HAS BEEN SOLVED!
                • mcflurry14
                  mcflurry14Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 10:30 am
                  I wonder if it is because of the environment the Zebra mother was in at the time? Like is it any different than a normal zebra environment? Different or more trees or more of a certain kind of predator could have caused it to change color on purpose.
                  • ilovetacoslol
                    ilovetacoslolSaturday, December 19, 2020 at 2:14 pm
                    Oh wow! it very beautiful <3 I hope this disease has doesn't have a comeback !! 😩
                    • saphege_ems
                      saphege_emsThursday, January 7, 2021 at 10:44 am
                      nothing that will harm it.
                      • saphege_ems
                        saphege_emsThursday, January 7, 2021 at 10:44 am
                        it's not a disease but more a genetic mutation to the animals dna.
                      • therealsnakes
                        therealsnakesFriday, December 18, 2020 at 6:54 pm
                        Wow just wow