The rare polka dotted foal called Tira, quickly became world’s most famous zebra. The ‘why’ is pretty obvious: his stripes are missing. My friend and Wildlife Photographer Frank Liu couldn’t believe his luck spotting the now instafamous baby animal. ‘His patterns were gorgeous, but it struck me that his tail and face were missing bits of fur. That on top of his rare color puts him at risk of biting flies and predators’, he explains.
It’s Antony Tira, a Maasai guide, who first spotted the foal in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Hence his unique name. Wildlife photographer & travel enthusiast, Frank Liu, shared Tira’s first pictures with the world, claiming he did not know what was happening in front of him. ‘I was convinced that Tira was not even close to being a zebra like the one he is standing next to. He’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.’
As much as he is stoked, Frank shares his concern regarding the baby animal. ‘Because of his appearance Tira might become an easy target to predators and insects like flies’. Horseflies and tsetse flies can be dangerous because they carry around diseases like the African horse sickness or even influenza. Flies won’t attack zebras because don’t recognize a black and white surface as a good landing spot.
Where did the stripes go?
So what is the reason behind Tira’s peculiar marks? The answer is Pseudo-melanism, also called abundism. According to geneticist Barsh from the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, Tira might suffer an abnormality of melanocyte identity. In other words, the melanocytes (cells responsible for melanins who produce pigments to hair and skin) got pretty confused. Inbreeding is one of the possible explanations to the mysterious mutation of zebras. And although they look absolutely breathtaking, abnormally patterned zebra foals rarely survive in the wild. ‘Last thing I know is that Tira was crossing the Mara River to Tanzania. I truly hope he’s well’, Frank adds.
* All photos used for this article are taken and kindly provided by Frank Liu @frankliuphotography