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Africa Geographic Travel
Zebra foal with pseudo-melanistic colouring in Maasai Mara in Kenya
© Frank Liu Photography
NEWS DESK POST by AG Editorial

Images of a rare spotted zebra foal have been sweeping the Internet this week after photographers caught sight of the spectacularly-coloured animal in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

The tiny foal, who has a dark coat with white polka dots, was first spotted last Friday by Maasai guide Antony Tira – who subsequently named the foal Tira. The following day wildlife photographer Frank Liu came across the plains zebra foal while searching for rhinos.

Tira the foal appears to be pseudo-melanistic. Also referred to as abundism, this genetic anomaly is a variant of pigmentation, characterised by dark spots or enlarged stripes, which cover a large part of the body of the animal, making it appear melanistic. One other example of abundism is the ‘king’ cheetah.

This condition is hereditary but can skip generations, and can be passed on by generations that show no visual signs of the condition.

Read ‘The black & white of African wildlife explained‘ to learn more about the various colour mutations in animals.

Africa Geographic Travel
Zebra foal with pseudo-melanistic colouring in Maasai Mara in Kenya
© Frank Liu Photography

It’s going to be a difficult life for little Tira, as most zebras with such unusual colouration stand out from the herd and make easy targets for predators. He may also suffer a bit more than others from biting flies as the latest research shows that zebras’ stripes act as a deterrent towards flies and other blood-sucking parasites. In Africa, flies carry dangerous debilitating diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness, which cause wasting and often death. Therefore zebras must utilise both behavioural defences (running away and tail swishing) and morphological striping to avoid flies.

But for now, Tira seems to be fitting in well with the rest of his herd in the Maasai Mara, followed closely by many keen wildlife photographers and guides, so here’s hoping he will do just fine!

Zebra foal with pseudo-melanistic colouring in Maasai Mara in Kenya
© Frank Liu Photography 

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We're the Africa Geographic editorial team – a diverse set of writers, editors, designers and social media natives, all united by our passion for this addictive continent.

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