Vumbura Plains

The Chocolate Zebras of Vumbura Plains


Kate MacWilliam


Zebra stripes are highly variable; in fact every animal has a unique coat pattern that can literally be used as a ‘fingerprint’ to identify individuals from year to year. However, this distinction sometimes goes beyond individual or regional variation and throws out an anomaly – like this melanistic foal…

We recently came across this fantastic photograph, taken by Mathew Copham of Safari Footprints, of a little ‘chocolate’ zebra seen at Vumbura Plains. This remarkable pattern has been observed over the years in the area and this particular foal is our fifth known record of a melanistic zebra sighted on the concession.

Michael Fitt, who previously worked in our Botswana Environmental Department, had been fortunate to spot a melanistic foal during his visit to Vumbura Plains in April 2014.

This zebra foal was just a few days old at the time of the photographs, and it was believed that the foal was the second ‘chocolate’ zebra to be born to the same mother within the course of the year. In the photo the mother is identifiable by her own unique coat pattern, namely a definitive ‘y’ marking on her right flank.

Matthew Copham commented that the foal he photographed earlier this year could possibly be a different generation from the same mare. Possibly a gene that is being passed on from time to time.

Michael Fitt also shared insights, “It is believed that the mare is carrying a recessive gene and if this is true, it means that the herd itself is a successful one, even though the foals are not surviving to adulthood. This zebra foal is most likely a genetic morph due to an excess of melanin, which results in its coat's dark pigment. This abnormality doesn’t occur often, and the last foal born with this condition was killed by hyaenas within a few months. Unfortunately zebras which stand out from the others too much do become a target. If the foal makes it to adulthood it will be interesting to observe any unusual behavioural interactions that may come about as a result of his condition”.

Have you ever seen anything like this before? Tell us more in the comments below!

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