Rare Species of a Polka Dot Zebra ‘Tira’ Spotted in Kenya, Migrates to Tanzania

To all the lovers of animals, especially the rare species, the latest finding in Kenya will excite you. ‘Tira’, as it’s commonly known, is a baby zebra whose polka dots have replaced black and white stripes. This rare species of polka dot zebra is named after Anthony Tira, a tour guide in Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, who first spotted it grazing. Anthony was very mesmerized and could not help but take tons of pictures of ‘Tira.’ He then posted its photos on the Matira Bush Camp facebook page and social media triggering huge responses from tourists. “At first I thought it was a zebra which had been captured and painted or marked for purposes of migration. I was confused when I first saw it,” Tira said. After the tourists and animal enthusiasts saw the photos he had posted, they started streaming in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in droves. Many of them wanted to catch a glimpse of this rare species and take part in the historical finding. Although now Tira has already left for Serengeti National Park in Tanzania during the annual wildebeest migration, many have already seen him.

Tira is believed to have been sighted in September, crossing to the Serengeti National Park with the parents. Initially, it was spotted in Maasai Mara Game Reserve, but it eventually left to Serengeti during the annual wildebeest migration. “The baby zebra, almost a month old, is grazing with the herds in Northern Serengeti,” said Felix Magoya from Kenya Tour Guides.

The rare species had at first been mistaken with a pseudo-melanistic; which is a condition that displays the abnormality of stripes pattern in Zebras. However, after comparison to another species found in Okavango Delta in Botswana by The National Geographic, the assumptions were deemed wrong. In Okavango Delta, several polka dot zebras are grazing in the grasslands. Experts from Forbes later realized that “zebra foals are chocolate brown when they are born, and the brown darkens to black as the animal matures.”

According to Prof. Greg Barsh from the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, the animal does not qualify to be pseudo-melanistic. “This animal (Tira) is different from most others that have been described as pseudo-melanistic….it is probably better described as spotted or partially spotted,” he said. Maybe the blonde zebras which are concluded to have albinism defect should be categorized as pseudo-melanistic.

Zebras manifest their unique stripes from specialized skin cells that contain melanocytes, which is the melanin that cause the strips. Where melanocytes have appeared on the hairs, black streaks are formed, and where it does not reach, the white color remains. That explains the stripes in Zebras. Sometimes, however, things go opposite, and the melanin does not manifest as stripes, for instance, in our case of the polka dot zebra. “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 distributed normally, but the melanin they make is abnormal,” Prof. Greg Barsh added.

There have been theories that have been spreading that the stripes in zebra have several functions. Some of them are for camouflage, temperature control, and social signaling. The black and white stripes are also believed to be fly repellent. Therefore the polka dot zebra may be susceptible to fly bites and hence carry with it many diseases. Without the black and white stripes that drive away from the flies, the partially dotted zebra may be prone to dangerous bites. The absence of the coat pattern may be a disadvantage to Tira, but if it withstands the flies, Tira will be fine.