Hey, did you hear that the San Diego Zoo’s Backstage Pass program has “earned its stripes”? That’s right! Our family now includes a zebra; her name is Zahari. We usually just call her Zari. She is a beautiful little Grant’s zebra, which is the smallest of the plains zebra species. When full grown, Zari should be around 48 inches tall (1.2 meters) at the withers and close to 500 pounds (226 kilograms). But right now she is still a youngster at only 16 months old and does not quite tip the scale at 400 pounds (184 kilograms).
Do not think zebras are just horses with a fancy paint job. That would be like saying a leopard is just a big house cat! Zebras are exotic animals that are trained to be comfortable around people. We never consider them to be tame. Zebras are notorious for being difficult to train, but Zari is proving to be the exception to that thought.
We were fortunate to begin her training as soon as she arrived in at the Zoo. All new animals have a quarantine period at the Zoo hospital. The talented hospital keepers immediately started teaching Zari to wear a halter, be touched all over for grooming, and allow her feet to be picked up. Zari became especially attached to Lead Hospital Keeper Tom Sica. When she was cleared from quarantine, Tom was able to make her transition to her behind-the-scenes home an easy one. It takes a “herd” to raise a zebra. And although Tom remains her “dad,” she now has lots of aunties, too!
You might see the “herd” out for a stroll on Zoo grounds; we try to get Zari out for a walk every day. But your best opportunity to get an up-close-and-personal visit is to join us at Backstage Pass. Come and earn your stripes!
Louella Miller is an animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Two-toed Sloth Training.