Spotted in Kenya: a baby zebra with polka dots
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Zebras have black-and-white stripes. They are striking. They boast one of the most wll-known coats of the animal kingdom. Some zebras don't fit the striped mold. Antony Tira is a tour guide. He is a photographer. He works at the Masai Mara National Reserve. It is in Kenya. He recently caught sight of an odd foal. The zebra had deep black coat. But he was covered with white spots.
"At first I thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of migration." That's what Tira told George Sayagie. He works for the Daily Nation. It is a Kenyan newspaper. "I was confused when I first saw it."
The baby zebra has been named Tira. He has a genetic condition. It is known as "pseudomelanism." It causes oddities in zebra stripe patterns. Ren Larison is a biologist. She works at the University of California, Los Angeles. She explained the phenomenon to Katie Stacey of National Geographic. Zebras are dark skinned animals. Their stripes arise from specialized skin cells. These are called melanocytes. These transfer melanin into some of their hairs. The hairs that have melanin appear black. Those without it appear white. But sometimes things go wrong. The melanin does not show up as stripes.
"There are a variety of mutations that can disturb the process of melanin synthesis. And in all of those disorders, the melanocytes are believed to be normally distributed. But the melanin they make is abnormal."That's what Greg Barsh told Stacey. He is a geneticist. He works at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
Genetic quirks can lead to other strange coat patterns. Natasha Daly is with National Geographic. She reported on a "blonde" zebra. It was at Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. That was earlier this year. The animal appeared to have partial albinism. These zebras have reduced melanin. It causes their stripes look pale and golden.
Tira's appearance marks the first time that a spotted zebra has been seen at Masai Mara. That's according to Sayagie. But others like it have been observed in Botswana's Okavango Delta. News of the unusual foal spread on social media. Tourists began flocking to Masai Mara. They came "in droves." They wanted to catch a glimpse of him.
The future may not be bright for this little zebra. Scientists have many thoughts on the function of zebra stripes. Theories include camouflage. They include social-signaling. And they include temperature control. Many now think that the black-and-white pattern actually serves as a fly repellant. Flies carry a number of diseases in Africa. These are fatal to zebras. Their thin coats make them very easy to bite. Zebras' stripes seem to confuse flies. This makes it difficult for them to stick their landing. Tira may be more prone to dangerous bites. That's without the standard coat pattern.
But Tira might do just fine. That's if he can withstand the flies. Zebras are accepting of difference. That's according to Stacey. Research suggests that animals with odd coat patterns fit right into the herd.