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People Are So Excited About This Polka-Dotted Zebra Baby

The Dodo logo The Dodo 9/20/2019 Elizabeth Claire Alberts

a zebra walking across a grass covered field © Mike Dexter Everyone knows zebras have black and white stripes — at least, most of them do. But a newborn zebra named Tira looks a little different. 

Tira was born with a dark coat covered in white polka dots, and just a few small stripes around his legs.

a close up of a zebra looking at the camera © Frank Liu Photography

The tiny foal was first spotted last Friday by Antony Tira, a guide in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya. The next day, photographer Frank Liu went out with his camera to search for rhinos — but ended up finding Tira instead.

a close up of an animal © Frank Liu Photography

“I felt like I was looking at a different species,” Liu told The Dodo. “He was beautiful and really stood out amongst the zebras. I wasn't able to keep my eyes off of him during the whole sighting.”

Tira, who’s less than 2 weeks old, is still sticking close to his mom, Liu said.

a couple of zebra standing on top of a grass covered field © Mike Dexter

“There were other herd members around and did not seem to mind him too much,” Liu said. 

Tira’s unique look is due to a genetic mutation, according to Brenda Larison, zebra expert and adjunct professor at UCLA. 

a zebra standing on top of a grass covered field

“This particular variation is pretty uncommon, but they do pop up from time to time,” Larison told The Dodo. “I’ve seen several photos of this type over the years.”

But this is the first time a zebra like Tira has been spotted in the Maasai Mara, Liu said — so Tira is getting plenty of attention. 

animal on the field © Frank Liu Photography

“I was only there with another vehicle when I arrived,” Liu said. “About half an hour later, there were a dozen vehicles rushing in from all directions. That's when I decided it was time to leave Tira alone.”

a zebra walking across a grass covered field © Mike Dexter

While Tira’s unusual coloring will make it harder for him to hide with the rest of his herd, everyone’s hoping the little calf will stay safe and healthy.

"A likely function of zebra herds, possibly enhanced by their stripes, is safety from predators due to predator confusion, sometimes called the dazzle effect,” Larison said. “It makes it hard for predators to target an individual. It is easier for predators to target oddballs because they stand out in the group.”

But for now, Tira has a lot of people keeping an eye out for him — and rooting for him from around the world.

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