7 April 2021

Zebra foal earns its stripes as holiday crowds flock to zoo

| Michael Weaver
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Baby zebra foal and mother at National Zoo and Aquarium

The one-week-old zebra foal at the National Zoo and Aquarium getting a taste for life with mum Johari. Photo: Michael Weaver.

A one-week-old baby zebra foal at the National Zoo and Aquarium is not quite used to being the ‘mane’ event but is slowly earning its stripes as the newest addition as big crowds flock to the zoo during the school holidays.

The as-yet-unnamed zebra foal is shy at first and nuzzles up behind a tree as its four-year-old mother Johari and father Tambo feed on hay bales.

After some gentle coaxing from mum to join the herd, the foal finds its way and tourists get their first look.

National Zoo and Aquarium senior wildlife keeper Katie Ness said after a few days, the mother will allow other members of the herd to interact with the foal that zookeepers are sure is a male.

“Johari has been a very good mum, and the zebra foal is actually already quite confident and loves running around the yard. He’s settling in very well,” Ms Ness said.

She said staff at the zoo will decide on a name shortly or may open a selection of names up to the public to choose.

Ms Ness said the zookeepers have become accustomed to having a newborn zebra at the zoo.

“We’ve had two very good breeding females here previously. Kiki lives in our enclosure, too, and she produces a foal every 13 to 14 months. We also had a previous breeder, Zara, which we’ve moved off to other facilities to become a very important part of breeding programs,” Ms Ness said.

“Female zebras are pretty good breeders. A female will be mated within a week of giving birth to a foal, so she’s pretty much going to be pregnant again right away after giving birth to that foal.”

Various theories also abound as to why zebras are striped, including to confuse predators and temperature regulation, but Ms Ness said the best explanation is that the stripes serve a social function as no two zebras have exactly the same pattern.

The zoo has also introduced four African-painted dogs who made the trip from Perth Zoo to reside at the National Zoo and Aquarium.

Dad Hasani and his three sons Saka, Akita and Araka will become a bachelor pack in Canberra for the remainder of their lives.

African painted dogs are native to southern Africa and the southern part of East Africa where the opportunistic predators are critically endangered.

Ms Ness said the dogs can be quite feisty but intriguing in their behaviour.

“Their hierarchy can change quite easily when one of the dogs decides to challenge to be the top dog which makes them a very complex animal,” she said.

“Having a bachelor group in captivity is a challenge for zoos because they can be very sweet animals, but they can also be quite brutal with each other when they get in some pretty serious fights.”

The latest additions come as crowds have flocked to the zoo during the school holidays.

“The school holidays have been chaotic so far, and it’s been phenomenal just how many people are coming out and supporting the zoo. Hopefully, these new additions will bring even more people out to have a look.”

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