Kenya Safari News: Rare Polka-Dotted Zebra Spotted In Kenya
Anthony Tira, one of the Masai guides spotted this unique zebra during their Kenya wildlife tour in the Masai Mara reserve with Liu and named it after his surname. Liu was on a Kenya safari or tour in Kenya searching for rhinos in this reserve.
Anthony during his report said, Tira looked like a different species at a distance but when he got close, he realized it was a zebra actually with a melanin disorder.
He then thought it was captured and painted for purposes of migration. This rare polka-dotted zebra was born with its special markings due to a genetic mutation called pseudomelanism.
This mutation has caused abnormalities in the zebra stripe patterns, as Ren Larison, a biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains to Katie Stacey of National Geographic.
Zebras are dark-skinned animals, and their stripes arise from specialized skin cells called melanocytes, which transfer melanin into some of their hairs; the hairs that have melanin appear black, and those that do not appear white. But on rare occasions, something goes awry and the melanin does not manifest as stripes.
He further said it was hardly a week old at the time it was spotted during his tour in Kenya’s Mara. Tira appeared weak and very different from the others for it has not striped and was stuck close to a female adult zebra, said to be its mother.
Following the spread of this good news, many tour guides hurriedly drove their tourists to the Mara river so they have a glance at this zebra.
Unfortunately, Tira’s future is likely to be uncertain. University of California biologist Ren Larison told the publication that zebras with abnormal markings usually have compromised life expectancies, as their eye-catching colouring makes them a prime target for predators.
Liu told Storyful that Tira has remained very close to his mother throughout the encounter, and was still by her side when he revisited the foal a few days later.
With their striking black-and-white stripes, zebras boast one of the most iconic coats of the animal kingdom.
But every now and then, a zebra is born that doesn’t fit the striped mould. Zebra stripes are as unique as fingerprints, but Tira’s odd colouration could be the first recorded observation in the Masai Mara, according to Liu. Similar foals have been seen in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Unfortunately for Tira, recent research by Larison and others has suggested that zebra stripes evolved to deter against biting flies, one of five theories that have been posed over the years, along with camouflage and temperature regulation.
Experiments in the field, for instance, have shown that biting flies don’t like landing on striped surfaces. If that’s the case, Tira won’t be as successful at repelling these flies which can carry diseases like equine influenza as a normally striped zebra, notes Tim Caro, a biologist at the University of California, Davis.
Tira and these other foals have a condition called pseudomelanism, a rare genetic mutation in which animals display some sort of abnormality in their stripe pattern, says Ren Larison, a biologist studying the evolution of zebra stripes at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“There are a variety of mutations that can disturb the process of melanin synthesis, and in all of those disorders, the melanocytes are believed to be normally distributed, but the melanin they make is abnormal,” Greg Barsh, a geneticist at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, says by email.
Tira’s future is likely uncertain because most zebras with such unusual colouration probably don’t survive long, Larison notes. “Research on other species has shown that, while it is harder for a predator to target an individual in a group, it is easier if an individual is different,” she says.
Specialized cells called melanocytes produce melanin, the red, yellow, brown, or black pigment that determines hair and skin cell colour in mammals.
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