“Now let’s see if we can find a spotted zebra“, said our guide on our morning drive in the Masai Mara. Did I hear correctly? Did he just say “spotted zebra”?? Haha, very funny! We had already seen loads of animals in the Mara and had high expectations to see many more, but a spotted zebra – how silly! But it was a good metaphor for an unusual animal in general, I thought.
And then we saw it. A spotted zebra. Right there, in front of us. I rubbed my eyes, I pinched my skin – it was there. It was real.
This was on 22 September 2019, and the foal had been spotted for the first time just a few days earlier by the wildlife guide Antony Tira. The little creature was named Tira after him.
With his unusual looks, Tira rose to internet fame almost instantly. Such a charming animal! In my eyes, and in most people’s eyes, I believe, almost all cubs, foals and baby animals are cute, but an animal that looks as though it has stepped right out of a fairy tale, well, that really is something extra!
But why does Tira have spots? And look at his tail – it doesn’t look like a zebra tail at all.
Tira is a melanistic form of zebra. Melanism is the increased development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in the skin or hair, Wikipedia informs us. There are melanistic forms of other animals as well, the black panther, for instance, is a melanistic leopard. But a melanistic form of zebra is something very unusual indeed. Tira of course couldn’t care less as he trots along by his mother’s side.
Does Tira have a future? A zebra’s stripes are said to play a role in body temperature control, and some say that they also deter potentially dangerous flies. Talking about insects, zebras use their tails to efficiently whisk them off. Without stripes and without a proper zebra tail Tira may very well run into serious trouble, although we are many who hope that he won’t. You can read more about Tira and melanistic forms in this article.
On the positive side, he seems fully accepted as a zebra by his mother and other zebras, so social problems should not arise. But doesn’t he look a little lonely? Or is it my imagination (quite possible, I admit)?
Tira being such an unusual little animal, we can only wait and see what nature has in store for him. In any case, he has enriched my life. When will I ever meet a creature from a fairy tale again?