Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Problems with Zorses

If you were to ask a zoo keeper which animal was the most dangerous, what answer would you expect? Would you expect them to talk about the tigers? Or maybe the grizzlies? Heck, even the bobcats can take their fair share of kills right? Would you believe him if he told you it was the zebras?

I mean...come on...they're just striped horses, right?

Zebras have actually earned the nickname “keeper killers” and they take that honor seriously. Most animals will run away once your down, but a zebra won't leave you alone until you are dead. There have been cases of zebras biting people and not letting go. Most people think that because a zebra looks like a horse, it most likely acts like one, however that could not be further from the truth. Zebras did not get along on the plains without learning a good healthy fear for primates and a few natural defenses to go with it. A good kick from a zebra has been known to kill a pursuing lion or hyena. Zebra stallions are particularly dangerous, and in zoo situations are known for attacking anything unfamiliar in a new habitat.

Unfortunately, there has been a recent trend in horse-people buying and breeding zebras as though they were merely striped horses. Here is one example. In fact, the link also raises hybrids called Zorses (and yes, zebras and horse can interbreed).Zorses and the like even have their own registry!Sadly, if you google “pet zebra” you get too many hits to name. The sites get even better when you add “sale” to the search field

Personally I think that this is a ridiculous endeavor to breed freaks that might put human life at risk. Wild animals are not domesticated and an animal as large and dangerous as a zebra should never be kept as a pet. Many of these zebra fanatics tell that zebras are trainable if you don't treat them like a horse. They do comment that the fight or flight instincts are always at the surface though. They spook more easily, and react more violently when the “fight” response is triggered. The websites selling them gloss over their more dangerous behaviors telling that it's the handlers fault when things go wrong. I agree, it's the handler's fault. It's the handler's fault for being dumb enough to buy a wild animal and keep it in a barn as a pet! Many of the people buying these animals are by no means experts on the species, which quickly becomes apparent through looking at the links that pop up.

Domesticated animals are the result of many generations of selective breeding, choosing the animals with the best temperaments to produce calm progeny so that eventually the animals are docile enough to be handled regularly. Not all domestic horses are easily handled, some can be very dangerous, especially some stallions. However, unlike the zebra, we have specific methods of dealing with domestic stock that do not work on their wild brethren. Zebras are physically stronger than horses, and their horse-looks and small stature makes many underestimate what they are capable of.Although there is a class for them in the american donkey and mule association, they strongly encourage anyone looking to get one to gain a lot of experience beforehand.

The people that promote the zorse and zonkey breeding programs tout that this is an “incredible research opportunity” to learn about hybrids. They talk about how much can be learned by studying their behaviors. This may be the case, however none of the websites are written by or deal with real scientists. Most sell their stock as pets into homes (most are being sold and used as “pasture ornaments”).

Further places to go for information

A fact sheet from the Philadelphia zoo

Animal Science 103 goes into zebra behavior a little, Lecturer Nancy Malcuit's speech on zebras is quite funny.


At 12:40 PM, Blogger PWH said...

zorses??? what a name! great job on the blog

Posted by Jennifer McGrath

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand this type of human behavior either. Why do people feel the need to own exotic and wild animals, that can be dangerous? As you said, people need to realize cats and dogs have breed for thousands of years to be domesticated. I beleive Chris Rock said it best, "That tiger didn't go crazy, that tiger went tiger!" (Talking about circus tiger that attacked Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy)

-Henry Rafferty

At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the owners of these hybrids deserve what they get, a zebra seems to be an animal who deals with enormous amounts of stress from potential predators, I can't imagine that there that much stronger and that it would be worth risking your life in attempt to raise them as pets. I'm sure there find some way through gene therapy or some other means to tone done their temper. Ha! Zorse and Zonkey, what's next a zony and a zunicorn? People need new hobbies.


At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow this is a really crazy article about breeding horses. I'm actually shocked to find out that zebras are more aggressive than horses. Do you think the stripes are indicative that they are more dangerous and should not be toyed with? Great article, really sparked my interest.

Harvmit Huang


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